by Graham Hassall*
Cook Islands is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. Geographically, it comprises 15 islands, scattered over 900 miles (1,450 km) of the South Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles (3,000 km) northeast of New Zealand. The population, 90% of whom are ethnically Polynesian, is approximately 20,000, although more than five times this number of Cook Islanders now reside in New Zealand and Australia. Elections to Parliament have been held regularly since 1965.
Until the early 1800s, each island was autonomous, and in most cases each district was, under its hereditary chiefly hierarchy. No national government existed. Christian missions rather than colonial authorities were the first major external influence on government in the Cook Islands. From the 1820s onwards, representatives of the London Missionary Society became a strong influence on the rule of Ariki (high chiefs), Mata'iapo and Rangatira (lesser chiefs), prior to the establishment of a British Protectorate in 1888. New Zealand annexed the Islands in 1901 and appointed a Resident Commissioner. A Legislative Council created in 1946 was renamed the Legislative Assembly in 1957. Limited self-government was introduced in 1962 and self-government was established in 1965 following a UN-supervised election (under the Cook Islands Constitution Act 1964). This Assembly voted for internal self-government in free association with New Zealand, with the British Monarch as Head of State and the people as New Zealand citizens. This relationship has since matured and been modified, both by exchange of letters and by change of practice. Until 1981, all laws passed by the New Zealand Parliament applied mutatis mutandis to the Cook Islands. By the 9th Constitutional Amendment, New Zealand laws only applied as provided by Act of Parliament of the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands Parliament