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Residency law change about ensuring fair election outcome: Commissioner

Changes to nomination and residency laws for the upcoming election will ensure Members of Parliament and their constituents are more connected, Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio said.

Explaining some of the amendments made to the Electoral Act that were passed in Parliament last week, the Commissioner said the changes were made with a view to have a more representative democracy.

“We need to ensure the people who represent us in parliament are the actual people we vote for from where we live,” he said.

The timeframe for when candidates can make their intentions to run known has been set for 12 to 23 October, during which time the Commissioner may confirm their nomination, accept the $1000 payment and publish their names to their constituency.

Immediately following, the campaigning period begins and the new candidates can pursue votes actively until 4 April, the eve of pre-polling. 

“Come October 12 to 23 we will know exactly who is going to run in the next election and that means the voters can look out for these guys and ask what do you have to offer,” Faimalomatumua said.

This is an improvement on the current reality, which is that constiuents are often left in the dark about who intends to try and represent them for too long and are not left with enough time to question or challenge those candidates when they are finally presented. 

Under the law, Faimalomatumua and his team are required to “publish publically” the confirmed candidates to their constituents. 

He said most likely this will mean advertising on the radio, television, and over the internet but will not include visits from the office to each village, lest it appear the Electoral Commission support on candidate over another.

A major repeal in the law has removed the option for people to register to vote in the constituency where they have lived for the six months leading up to registration, and removed the option to let a voter register for any other constituency even if they have more than one residence listed in previous census records.

Previously, a person could have several residences and there were criteria by which the Electoral Commissioner could decide which residence to use for the electoral roll.

Today, a person can have only one place of residence and it is the place they lived in for six months before they registered, recorded in the most recent census before the election, and is supported by a Statutory declaration signed by a Sui o le Nuu, Sui Tamaitai o le Nuu, or a faifeau.

“We need to compose electoral rolls based on these people, [so] it’s very important the people on the roll for an electoral constituency are the people who reside there,” Faimalomatumua said. 

“They are the people whose daily interests are affected from what is going on around that area.

He said if a person votes for a candidate in a constituency they don’t live in, even if their families hail from there, the end result may not reflect the real needs of the people who live in that constituency permanently.

“What is the point of me voting in Savaii and the majority of people here voting in a constituency in Savaii when we have no idea what they dynamics are, what the needs are.

“And if I am the Member of Parliament that won by our vote here (in town), I don’t feel obligated to go there (to the village), I will just take care of the people here.

“When you go Parliament and the Parliament starts to talk about the budget, distributing resources, I don’t think I will be fully informed of the needs that are required in the villages.”

The electoral roll is not seeking to redefine anyone’s identity by having them vote in the place they live, Faimalomatumua said.

“When it comes to your family connections, your matai obligations, the election does not dictate that. Our origins are not determined by elections.”

Other amendments include ensuring voters getting “reasonable time off” to vote in the election. The new law includes a new stipulation for time off to vote in a by-election. 

The length of time after which presentations of o’o and momoli are not considered bribes or corrupt activity has also been increase to three years after the results are declared, from two years.

Presiding officers are no longer allowed to let “as many constables as the Presiding Officer thinks necessary to keep the peace” into a polling booth, the new amendment has this restricted to a single police officer. 

There is also a new definition of what an “approved scrutineer,” is, and that they have to be appointed in writing by a candidate, and are not permitted to leave their polling booth during polling hours. Candidates are not permitted to be scrutineers. 

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