Former Speaker and Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, yesterday opposed the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018.
Tabled by the Minister of the Electoral Office, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, the Bill proposes a raft of changes to the electoral laws including increasing the number of electoral constituencies from 50 to 51, the removal of Urban Seats and redefining of voting boundaries based on geographical location.
This means Leauva’a and Salamumu will no longer vote in Savai’i. They will instead be allocated to different constituencies in Upolu.
La’auli was among a number of Members of Parliament who expressed concerns about this.
“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 constituencies, that is our calling.”
La’auli reminded that 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 country and you are a traditional leader endorsed by your traditional leaders in your respective districts.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi rejected the concerns. He pointed out that the changes only give the Member of Parliament a new “work title.”
He said the changes have nothing to do with Samoa’s culture and traditional boundaries, adding that these are only voting districts.
But La’auli was not convinced. He referred to the Minister of S.T.A, Sala Fata Pinati, for instance.
“If the Bill is approved, you no longer represent Gagaemauga but Sagaga 4,” said La’auli. “Likewise Salamumu will no longer be Gagaemauga 2, but will be Safata.
“Where do we draw the line when it comes to our traditional village identities? What about our salutations, ceremonial greetings and our fa’asamoa?”
Laauli also raised another issue.
“The barring of family members from voting for their relative who is running for office is somewhat a violation of people’s right to vote,” said La’auli.
La’auli claims that his family members will no longer be able to vote for him because they must vote where they currently reside.
The Bill, he added, will affect family relationships.
“I believe there are people who wish to reside in town but still want to vote in their respective villages where their family ties are and where they grew up.”
La’auli also appealed for Government to reconsider having voting booths for Savai’i voters in Apia.
“It is quite expensive and for my constituency, there are more than 500 of them who live and work in town and send money and visit their families in Savai’i.
“If this law is approved, we are looking at spending up to $100,000 and it is a costly process.
“I am merely talking about my constituency who live in Upolu, not including my other colleagues. And we are looking at $3million if this means we will all go to Savai’i to vote. These are conservative numbers for your consideration. We feel that Salafai is unfairly treated.”
Since Independence, La’auli said there has been no need to change the voting boundaries. Why now?
The Member of Parliament also called upon Parliament to allow the splitting of Gagaemauga No. 2 which is made up of Saleaula in Savai’i and Salamumu in Upolu.
“Gaga’aemauga and Gagaifomauga are a family. We cannot sit idle while Salaeaula is affected. I appeal to your honourable Minister to reconsider your proposed amendments. This will affect our culture and traditions.”
The former Speaker and Minister also claimed the Government is following the example by New Zealand, when it doesn’t work here.
“Samoa is Samoa. A village is complete when there is a Paramount Chief. For overseas countries they target the number of voters. Please be mindful that numbers are just that, numbers.”
La’auli reminded the warriors of Samoa who were outcast by the German government and they passed away while overseas and their bones were brought back.
“They died for the betterment of Samoa. Remember the hard work by Vaai Kolone and Tofilau Eti Alesana you are now undoing. I humbly pray that you consider the plea and not remove Saleaula from the electoral constituency,” said La’auli.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa objected. He reminded that when Vaai Kolone and Tofilau Eti Alesana were in office, after the elections, they would hold a Commission of Inquiry.
“Majority of those who are expressing concerns are from Savai’i during the Commission of Inquiry,” he said.
According to the Prime Minister, they are looking at eliminating corruption within the elections.
“We need brave leaders’, not weak people who cannot make hard decisions. This is not an easy task for the Cabinet but it must be done. This is the nature of things and those in Savaii have inquired as to when things will change.”
According to the Prime Minister, there are people who register to vote in the Constituency they have no ties with, but rather they are friends or a relative of the representative who is running for office.
The Prime Minister also made it clear this will have no bearing on the cultural boundaries of the respective villages.