24 Apr 2015

Aitutaki voters want to scrap Sunday flights

4:02 pm on 24 April 2015

The people of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands have decided Sunday flights to and from their island should be scrapped.

no caption

Photo: supplied

The Chief Electoral Officer Taggy Tangimetua said results from yesterday's referendum show 56 percent of people want Sunday flights to end.

There was a 61 percent voter turnout, from the Aitutaki constituencies of Amuri-Ureia, Vaipae-Tautu and Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara.

Ms Tangimetua explained that the referendum was not binding on government.

"In the case of this referendum, where it refers to Sunday and its religion, in the constitution it's not binding because of the freedom of religion in our constitution. The results will guide the government in its action, but I think they may choose to act on it."

Taggy Tangimetua said it is not known when the government will make its decision.

The spat over Sunday flights has been long-running, with proponents saying they boost tourism, while opposition is mainly based around the belief that Sunday is a sacred day when businesses should not operate.

However, the people have now spoken, according to the mayor of Aitutaki, John Baxter.

He said a referendum was long overdue, and it's now up to the government to decide what to do with the information it has received.

"The people have spoken and obviously [more than] 50 percent have gone against the Sunday flights. The referendum was long overdue by eight years. And if that's what they want, then that's the way it should be. The government, the ball's in their court now."

The mayor said that it's up to the government to decide what to do after this referendum result and take clear action.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Air Rarotonga clamied the referendum was not a true reflection of what people really think.

Ewan Smith said he expected those who were opposed to the flights voted, and many people who were not interested or had no objection stayed home.

"The prime minister did say, he did stress in advance of the poll, that it was a non-binding referendum and that government would consider the result and incorporate that into its policies. As I said, I'm not sure that a 60 percent turnout gives you a fair reflection of what people think."

Ewan Smith said canning the flights would have a severe impact on the island's tourism industry and economy.

The flights have caused ongoing tension since being introduced six years ago, as those opposed to them say Sunday is a sacred day when businesses shouldn't operate.