Electoral Commissioner says eligibility law not new
The Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Matthew Lemisio, has defended changes to the Electoral laws, saying the eligibility rules around the monotaga (service rendered), which has attracted a lot of criticisms, are not new.
“It was introduced in 2015 and was used in the General Election of 2016,” Faimalo said.
The Samoa Observer sought comments from the Electoral Commissioner after senior lawyers questioned the eligibility laws under the new Electoral Act recently passed by Parliament.
A former Member of Parliament and District Court Judge, Lefau Harry Schuster, argued that the change limits the number of people who can run as candidates for the 2021 General Election. He labeled them “unfair" and "discriminating.” He also called on the Government to consider holding off on implementing them until the 2026 General Election.
But the Electoral Commissioner disagrees.
“All I can say about this is that the requirement for candidates of any election to render their monotaga as matai to the villages in a Constituency that they intend to contest from is not a new requirement,” he said.
Lefau pointed out that just a few months ago, Parliament passed another law taking away religious contributions to be considered as monotaga.
“There were also similar challenges of this rule in Court and the Court had ruled in favour of the rule,” said Faimalo.
According to Lefau, the new law is unfair and unreasonable given the fact that to be qualified to be a candidate in the next election, you have to have performed monotaga in the constituency that you are running from for three years.
“Having a constituency change just last year does not give three years notice to the people wanting to run to prepare themselves so they are qualified for the upcoming election.
“This will allow candidates time to change their circumstances so they meet the three year requirements if they want to run from that constituency in next year’s elections.”
The Electoral Commissioner disagrees.
“The objective logic of this change is to avoid matai who only turn up to their villages to render their monotaga when the election fever comes around. Then they leave again after the election and will only come back again when the next election are near.
"We must remember that it is an obligation of any Samoan matai to render their monotaga to their villages regardless whether they want to contest an election or not.
“The Electoral Act recognises that rule,” said Faimalo.
Another Senior lawyer, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, has taken the matter to court.
He filed a major challenge against the Electoral Act 2019, calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory in its rules about Parliament candidate’s qualifications and the exemptions to monotaga criteria. The Electoral Commissioner acknowledged related cases in the past over the electoral act.