Electoral Commissioner explains law change

Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, has reassured that Samoa’s electoral process, including recent changes to the Electoral laws, empowers women to enter Parliament.

Faimalomatumua has also clarified that sitting in a Village Council for a woman “is not a requirement for candidates” to run for Parliament but the “two matai who will be confirming a candidate’s monotaga and residency” are.

“A woman matai can still run in the election, even if she doesn’t sit in a village council but renders her compulsory monotaga in accordance with her village protocols,” the Commissioner said.

Faimalomatumua offered the explanation in response to questions from the Samoa Observer seeking clarity on how changes to the Electoral Act passed in Parliament last week – including changes to the monotaga - would affect women who seek public office but are not allowed to sit in a village council.

Some villages in Samoa do not allow women to become matai and they are not therefore allowed in the Village Council. Which means the law change could create a barrier for women who want to contest the elections, critics say.

But Faimalo said the change to the monotaga aspect passed by Parliament had always been there until recently.

“The religious monotaga was only included in the monotaga definition specifically for Urban Constituencies in 2015,” the Commissioner explained.

 “Since 1963, religious monotaga was never part of the tautua that was required of a candidate to render to the village where their matai belongs. Monotaga is a compulsory contribution by matai to village affairs. Religious services are not compulsory.

 “So again, the religious monotaga was specifically for the Urban Seats. It enabled candidates within these boundaries but are matai from villages outside of the Urban Boundaries to contest the 2016 General Elections. Now the Urban Constituencies will cease in 2021. It is only necessary for this requirement to be removed as well and revert back to the original requirement.”

He re-emphasised that “matai sitting in a village council is not a requirement for candidates to run in an election.”

 “That requirement is for the two matai that supports the nomination of a candidate in proving his or her monotaga obligations and residency in Samoa.

 “The reference you made to villages that do not allow woman matai in accordance with their customs, that issue in my opinion lies with those villages, and I agree it’s a hurdle hindering some women who could not obtain matai titles because of their villages' customs,” Faimalomatumua said.

 “But this is 2020 and the majority of Samoan villages have allowed women matai who are very active in village affairs. And as long as they satisfied the requirements to be candidates, the electoral process allows for them to contest just like it does for men.”

The Commissioner emphasised that “Samoa’s 10% for women members in our Constitution is largely admired on by our neighbouring countries.”

 “There’s this phenomena in women participation in politics call Temporary Special Measures introduced globally to help increase the number of Women Parliamentarians. As you can tell from the name itself, some sees it as a special treatment for women,” said Faimalomatumua.

 “In some countries there are special Seats in Parliament specifically for women only. Others designed special constituencies for women only, other country, their leaders hand pick women MP. The concern with those practices is the undermining of women’s merits as leaders. The way our method works is that all matai, men or women, who wish to contest the elections will go through the same process. No special treatments.”

In Samoa, he said, women compete “on the same level as men.”

 “It is only after the election and the 10% minimum of Parliament is not reached that this Constitutional Requirement is triggered. And it was an honour to witness it implemented for the first time in 2016. We have had a number of request form our neighbouring countries to share this Samoan method through international conferences,” the electoral commissioner said.

 “We’ve been told that some of these countries are considering adopting this Samoa innovation. So as Electoral Commissioner, I see aspects of our electoral process that empowers our women to become political leaders.”

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