Browne new Rakahanga MP

The Electoral Office has confirmed Democratic Party leader Tina Browne as the new Member of Parliament (MP) for Rakahanga.

A Court of Appeal decision earlier this month declared Cook Islands Party (CIP) candidate Toka Hagai “not duly elected” and his election declared void.

He was found to have “treated” free food and drinks, including alcohol, to 26 people at his rally in the lead up to the June 14 general election.

Chief electoral officer Taggy Tangimetua said in a statement yesterday that at the conclusion of the hearing of the election petition, including a scrutiny of the Rakahanga roll, the court determined there were 24 votes for Browne against Hagai’s 16.

“And accordingly the successful candidate duly elected in the election held on 14 June 2018 is Tina Pupuke Browne,” Tangimetua.

“And further, I hereby revoke the warrant issued under my hand on the 28th day of June 2018, declaring Toka Hagai as the successful candidate for the Rakahanga constituency.”

In the June 14 election, Hagai won 39 votes against Browne’s 24.

CINews understands out of the 26 people that were found to have been “treated”, three did not vote and the votes of the remaining 23 were deducted off Hagai’s total count.

In its ruling the court recommended that: “on scrutiny of the Rakahanga rolls, be struck off from the number of votes appearing to have been received by the respondent (Hagai) in the final vote count on 28 June 2018, the vote of every person who voted at the election and was proved to have been so treated in attending the campaign meeting on 24 May 2018”.

Deputy prime minister and CIP deputy leader Mark Brown said the ruling of the Appeals Court in regard to the striking off of votes was “unfair and undemocratic”.

“The other important thing to notice in the ruling of court is there was no opening of the ballot for recount after the discarding of the names of those people who attended the meeting (where treating took place),” Brown said.

“Regardless of who those people voted for, the count was against our sitting member Toka Hagai. These people may have voted for the opposition (Browne) but their votes won’t be discarded from the opposition vote. They will be discarded straight from the CIP member and to me, this is very unfair.

“I’m not sure how the law can be seen as being fair when this is the ruling of the court which is to me not only unfair, but it seems entirely undemocratic that a person’s vote is not going to be considered.”

Brown said there was no way to appeal the decision.

“According to our legal advice, there is no further avenue for appeal after this decision by the Court of Appeal so we would have to accept the ruling of the court in this particular matter.

“It’s very unfortunate because it’s very clear who the people of Rakahanga wanted to represent them. However, the court has found in th e way that our member is no longer eligible to be considered for this particular election, so we will be sitting down with the leader of the party (prime minister Henry Puna) and Toka to find out what steps we will take in the next few years.”

Brown said they were looking forward to the police investigation into the matter, as recommended by the court.

He believed the police investigation would show that no actual treating had taken place.

“We look forward to a thorough investigation to be undertaken on all of the activities of the campaign in Rakahanga to show who actually brought food for the island and how was this used to influence voters.”

As a result of Browne’s victory, the Democratic Party now has 11 seats while the CIP has nine plus the three coalition seats (two independents and one from One Cook Islands party).

The Ivirua by-election on January 21 is expected to determine the fate of the CIP-led government.