The Cook Islands are an independent country in association with New Zealand, which provides for the national defense needs of the islands and renders substantial financial aid. Cook Islanders hold New Zealand citizenship, which means they can live there. New Zealanders, on the other hand, are not citizens of The Cook Islands and cannot live here without permission from the Immigration department. Although technically independent, the ties with New Zealand deprive the Cooks of a seat in the United Nations.

The country has a Westminster-style parliament led by a prime minister chosen by members of the majority party. Parliament meets twice a year, in February and March and from July to September. There is also a House of Ariki (that is, hereditary chiefs), which advises the government on matters of traditional custom and land tenure.

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