Updated: 07/07/2014 08:41 | By Agence France-Presse

Cook Islanders set for polls

Cook Islanders head to the polls on Wednesday, with residents of the tiny Pacific nation to decide whether to return incumbent Prime Minister Henry Puna for a second term.


Cook Islanders set for polls

A beach in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on September 1, 2012 - by Marty Melville

Puna called a snap election in April amid internal ructions within his Cook Islands Party (CIP) which eventually led to Teina Bishop resigning from the cabinet and forming his own party.

"One particular member from our caucus, who managed to string along another member from our caucus ... precipitated this whole snap election," Puna told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The nation of about 14,000 people relies heavily on tourism and fisheries.

Its citizens have the automatic right to live and work in New Zealand, meaning a flow of skilled migrants offshore is an ongoing issue.

Puna's main contender in the vote is opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen of the Democratic Party, who strongly criticised Puna for the election call after a number of bills ended up being stalled in parliament.

But Bishop could end up as kingmaker if neither Puna nor Rasmussen win a clear majority in the 24-seat parliament.

The campaign has seen the CIP highlight policies brought in during its nearly four years in office, which have included a number of increases in social welfare payments, including old age pensions.

It has also increased the minimum wage and the VAT consumption tax rate.

Rasmussen has vowed to reverse the tax hike, saying it has hit residents in the pocket in a country which already has a high cost of living because of its reliance on imported goods.

The CIP and Democratic Party also hold divergent views on developing the nation's fisheries, and are clashing over a potential opportunity to increase the nation's stake in state-owned telecommunications assets.

Retired MP Iaveta Short said the major parties should be concentrating on big-picture items such as diversifying the tourism-reliant economy but most of the campaigning had been on local issues.

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