Former M.P. vows to continue fight
A former Member of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, does not regret his decision to oppose the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2019, which led to his sacking by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).
In fact, the veteran politician who has been forced by Parliament to a by-election as a consequence of his stance on the bill has vowed to continue the fight for equal treatment for residents of Savai’i, whom he believes have been severely disadvantaged.
“I have been sacked from the party (H.R.P.P.) because of this law,” La’auli said during a press conference on Tuesday. “They’ve sacked me for opposing the amendment of the Constitution to change electoral boundaries. This is the law upon which the party has used to remove me but it is because of my desire to correct this anomaly.
“They have removed the seat of Saleaula, people cannot vote for Savai’i from where they stay in Upolu, they have added more seats for Apia and reduced the seats for Savai’i, these are inappropriate. It is wrong.”
The Electoral Constituencies bill, which was passed into law, has become such a contentious issue as the country prepares for the General Election next year. As a consequence, the law has been challenged in Court by two election candidates, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papali’i Panoa Moala in separate lawsuits.
Away from Court, a former District Court Judge has criticised the changes and called on the Government to consider withholding their implementation.
In the meantime, La’auli who is preparing to launch a new political party next week, said he is rallying support from Savai’i constituencies in a bid to correct this wrong.
“The removal of the seat for Saleaula is not easily acceptable,” he said. “How can they remove Saleaula’s seat when it is in the foundation of the Samoan Government?
“Saleaula has now been placed under Lealatele. If the next election does not have a Saleaula representative, the authority in Parliament will be incomplete. And when that happens, where is the sacredness and the dignity of Samoa being a nation where positions and appointments have already been made as we know?”
Laauli also criticised the changes, saying they are unfair.
“What I find extremely unfair and disappointing is the removal of one seat from Savai’i and yet they add more for Apia. What is good for Apia is also good Savai’i they say , where is that being reflected?
“If they have done something for Apia, do the same for Savai’i. It would’ve been better off if they added seats to Apia and leave Savaii alone.”
The former H.R.P.P. member referred to the past, saying the late Tofilau Eti Alesana was mindful of this.
“Do you recall the time of Tofilau,” he asked. “The addition of seats for Safata (Upolu) was done at the same time as Salega (Savai’i). That was consistency. What they have done now is they have split the seats of authority in terms of Savai’i. This is inappropriate.”
Laauli also hit out at the cancellation of special voting booths, which allows Savai’i residents to vote from Upolu.
“We have seven hundred voters (for Gagaifomauga No. 3) who will need to travel to Savai’i to vote. In some other constituencies, they have thousands. So what are we going to do? We’re looking at transporting 30,000 people to Savai’i for the General Election. It’s not right.”
La’auli also touched on the cultural aspect of the new electoral boundaries.
“They have put Salamumu with Safata. Is there a connection between the Aiga Malosi (fa’alupega of Safata) and Saleaula? What happens in the future when someone from Salamumu is elected? It will be a case of one of the authorities (pule) from Savai’i occupying the seat for the Aiga Malosi. We have to think about these things because these things will happen in the future.”
Lastly, he lamented what the changes means for the young generation.
“The prohibition of our kids returning to Savai’i to vote is another thing, unless they become a matai. They are forcing them to vote here (Upolu) because of residency.
“Where is your identity (fa’asinomaga) if a kid who lives in the urban areas grow up and want to vote in his mom or dad’s village? Where is the emphasis being placed on your identity and village of origin?
“We have violated the right of our sons and daughters who have reached 21 years, the legal age for them to vote whether they choose their mom or dad’s family to exercise this right. It’s prohibited.”