The Minister for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, has defended changes proposed in the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018, which has caused widespread concerns among voters.
He has also downplayed questions as to why the changes do not affect the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituencies, if re-defining boundaries for electoral constituencies, as the bill proposes, are determined by the number of voters.
Asked why Lotofaga and Lepa have not been combined since both constituencies have relatively small electoral rolls compared to others, the Minister said the bill looks at the total population and it specifically targets the imbalances in Savai’i.
“This does not apply to the constituency you had mentioned as we are targeting only Savai’i given the significant imbalance of numbers in Savai’i,” Fa’aolesa told the Samoa Observer yesterday.
Pressed as to why Savai’i has been singled out, while the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister’s constituencies are also small, Fa’aolesa insisted their population “is around 1,000.”
“However like I said earlier, Savai’i’s population is quite small and the amendments targets where is affected the most and that is Savai’i.”
In terms of voting rolls, statistics obtained by the Samoa Observer show that for the past three elections, Lepa’s roll has not reached 1,000 voters. For 2006, they had 588, in 2011 it was 740 and 764 in 2016.
For Lotofaga, in 2006 it was 801, 814 in 2011 and 1,062 in 2016.
Compared these statistics to Gagaemauga No. 2, one of the constituencies affected by the Bill, the argument about voting numbers does not stand up.
For 2006, Gagaemauga No. 2’s roll was 1,009, 1,117 in 2011 and 1,120 in 2016.
Now the bill in question threatens to split voters in Gagaemauga No. 2.
This week the Electoral Constituency consisting of Saleaula Savai’i and Saleaula Upolu urged Parliament to reconsider the proposed changes.
The constituency made their point known before a Parliamentary Committee hearing at Parliament’s makeshift home at Tuana’imato.
Saleaula Savai’i and Saleaula Upolu that make up the electoral constituency, is one village. They were divided during the Mt. Matavanu volcano in 1905 when some of them sought refuge in Upolu where their decedents now call Salamumu home.
Historically though, despite the physical separation, they have had one Member of Parliament. That seat for the current Parliamentary sitting is occupied by Faaso’otauloa Pati Taulapapa, the Associate Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
But the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018 is threatening to change that so that voters in Saleaula, Savai’i, will vote as part of Gagaemauga 1, while Salamumu voters will vote as part of Safata 1.
During an interview yesterday, the Minister said the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018, was the result of complaints from members of the public.
“After every election, an election Commission of Inquiry is held and the same complaint is echoed over and over about the need for more seats in Parliament due to the increasing number of voters in a constituency,” he said.
Fa’aolesa told the Samoa Observer, complaints led to a visit by the New Zealand Electoral Commission who conducted a study.
They recommended the addition of more seats.
“The recommendations included looking at the number of seats in Parliament, which was 49, and comparing it to the population.
“The scale is that every constituency should at least have 3,800 people living in that area.
“Keep in mind, we look at the population of any village, not the number of voters,” explained Fa’aolesa.
“Looking at Savai’i, each constituency, not one village reaches the quota for 3,800 people.
“The only time we can meet the quota is when we combine two or three constituencies, then we meet the quota.
“The imbalance of the numbers of those living in the area is the reason for the proposed amendments.”
The Minister used Vaimuaga West’s population which is about 24,000 compared to that of Saleaula Savai’i which is 864.
“I want to make one thing clear, there is a fine line and significant difference between electoral boundaries and cultural boundaries,” he said.
When the bill was introduced in Parliament last month, Deputy Speaker, Nafoitoa Tala’imanu Keti, was among Members of Parliament who called on Parliament to reconsider the proposal to divide voters for Gagaemauga No. 2.
The Member of Parliament for Gagaemauga No. 3 has asked the Government to consider a standalone seat for Saleaula, as opposed to the current plan where Saleaula will join voters in Gagaemauga No. 1.
“The Government has meddled with of core traditional authority in Savai’i with its decision to remove of Saleaula from its own electoral constituency,” he said.
In Samoan, he cautioned: O lea ua omiomi le niu ale le pule fa’avae i le Puleono i Salafai, tulou lo’u gutu male afi - ia Saleauala ma lona tufugaga.
“That is my concern, although my constituency is not affected but this will affect Savai'i as a whole.”
The Deputy Speaker made it clear he does not support the removal of Saleaula from Gagaemauga No. 2, which they currently belong to.
Nafoitoa cautioned the introduced changes will affect the traditional relationship between districts and villages.
“The mutual respect between the districts is what I am extremely troubled about and that is why I implore you to reconsider the removal of Saleaula.”
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi objected.
He argued changes have nothing to do with Samoa’s culture and traditional boundaries. He said the divisions are only voting constituencies as opposed to territorial constituencies.
“When you bring culture and traditions into such issues, this is when things tend to be problematic. Again these are only voting districts,” said Tuilaepa.
Former Speaker and Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3, La’auiloemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, also objected.
“We are concerned about the renaming of the electoral constituencies,” said La’auli. “The essence behind our unease is because we want the integrity of the constituencies to remain intact. We are Members of Parliament for the respective constituency and that is our calling.”
La’auli reminded our forefathers, who laid the foundation for Samoa, knew the importance of traditional links.
“You are a traditional leader in your district. You’re not just a lawmaker from your constituency. Your calling to your constituency does not end after the election.
“Your purpose is to serve your district and you are a traditional leader endorsed by your traditional leaders in your respective districts.”