Cook Islands begin general elections for a new 24-member parliament today.
The vote comes amid an uptick in geopolitical tensions surrounding the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). The latest PIF meeting saw Pacific nations wedged between United States and China as the two countries vie for influence in the region.
For the 2022 election, Cook Islanders have one new party to vote for: the United Party. Cook Island politics has been long dominated by the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands Party, with the latter led by current Prime Minister, Mark Brown. While the current administration has directed Chinese finance towards infrastructure development, prices of imported foods have soared in recent years, causing opposition parties to be wary of increasing Chinese investment.
In the short term, it is likely that the Cook Islands Party will continue to dominate Cook Islands politics. Like their Pacific Island neighbors, Cook Islands will likely continue to deepen their economic ties with China given that the country recently took on a loan from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). However, it is uncertain whether the deepening infrastructure investment relationship will translate to better public service provision without a change in Cook Islands’ leadership.
Prior to joining Foreign Brief, Htet interned at the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, where she worked on peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts in Myanmar, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. During this time, she also oversaw and arranged program activities regarding Indigenous land issues in the Connecticut River Valley. In addition, she participated in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center where she wrote short articles on US-Asia local relations for the Asia Matters for America website. Htet is a current MA candidate at the Johns Hopkins University of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), focusing on Southeast Asia and international development, climate, and sustainability.