Stepping out of a suit and tie at Pacific events sends some world leaders into a panic. The sartorially uncertain should follow Henry Puna’s example: the prime minister of the Cook Islands goes effortlessly from suit to floral shirt. Wearing two hats is standard for the lawyer-turned-public servant, who ran a pearl farm before he was elected in 2010. The Cook Islands celebrated 50 years of self-rule in 2015 but Queen Elizabeth remains head of state and New Zealand has some responsibilities for foreign affairs.
Regular visits to his Kiwi counterpart in Wellington give Puna a chance to catch up with overseas nationals: more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than the roughly 20,000 domestic residents spread across 15 islands. A right to New Zealand citizenship is prized and the prospect of cutting Kiwi ties sunk the Cook Islands’ voyage towards full UN membership.
“We’re mature enough to take our seat at the world table but we appreciate our friend New Zealand so are taking time to talk through these issues; it’s the Pacific way,” says Puna. For now the politician is making his voice heard at several UN specialised agencies; the Cook Islands are currently angling for a seat on Unesco’s executive board.
Events at home are no beach holiday though. The floral shirt Puna wears to parliament may be the national dress but Pacific politics are not as laidback as they seem. Just ask Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, who ruffled feathers by wearing floral patterns designed in the Cook Islands to an event in the Solomon Islands.
At 67, Puna is older than the democracy he leads but his slicked-back silver hair gives him matinee-idol looks that he at times hides behind sunglasses.
Puna wears local beads as a sign of cultural identity. At September’s Pacific Islands Forum he sported a strand gifted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
A flag pin with a ring of 15 stars to represent each major island is worn opposite a badge to commemorate countrymen who fought alongside New Zealand during the First World War.
During visits to his overseas constituency Puna tends to pick up a suit off the rack from either Munns in Auckland or various Wellington shops.
For years Australian prime ministers have relied on Boeing 737 jets for international travel. Recently though, concerns about the range and seating capacity of the model have prompted the Department of Defence to investigate other transport options.
That’s led to the decision to spend au$150m (€105m) on converting an Airbus a330 into the Australian equivalent of Air Force One. The plane, which should be completed in 2019, will feature secure communication technology and a large conference room. It will also have seats for journalists who in the past have had to make their own travel arrangements during prime ministers’ diplomatic visits.
As tourists pour into Japan in unprecedented numbers, many put a stay in the ancient capital of Kyoto at the top of their sightseeing list. While this is good news for the city’s economy, it is presenting a problem for hoteliers. In 2015, 3.16 million tourists spent a night in Kyoto; by 2020 the city is expecting twice as many.
“The lack of accommodation is a pressing problem,” says Yusuke Takamori from Kyoto’s Department of Industry and Tourism. “But the balance isn’t easy. Kyoto is full of World Heritage sites and we can’t rush prematurely into bringing large, distasteful concrete hotel complexes into this beautiful city.”
Strict zoning laws have meant that the prospects of building more hotels have been slim but now the city is preparing to loosen planning restrictions. But can tourism expand without spoiling the reason people come in the first place?
A new cybersecurity law takes effect in mid-2017, banning internet users from doing anything to “damage national unity”. Critics say that it will bolster the state’s surveillance and censorship capabilities.
Date: 12 February
Type: Presidential, parliamentary
Candidates: Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who has been president since 2007, is seeking another term. He will win, likely with about 95 per cent of the vote. Though other parties will stand they have all claimed to support the president’s rule.
Issues: The country’s biggest problems are democratic in nature: a lack of meaningful opposition, zero tolerance of dissent and an absence of any free media. Alas, they are unlikely to be addressed.
Monocle comment: Despite the country’s wealth its citizens are largely impoverished and there is no sign of the situation being rectified any time soon. Berdymukhammedov recently passed a law extending presidential terms from five years to seven and abolished one barring over-seventies from the presidency – he’s only 59 so it’s a clear case of planning ahead.