Law change "imprisons" H.R.P.P. members, Olo claims

A change to the Electoral Act, which forbids Members of Parliament from becoming independent, should they quit a political party, has been described as "intimidating tactics."

The description comes from Salega East Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, who also claimed the law change has "imprisoned" members of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).  

The amendment was passed by Parliament last Tuesday. But Olo, who is an independent Member of Parliament, said the law change is an attempt to plug gaps that are starting to appear in the H.R.P.P.

"Basically, what this newly approved change says is that, once you leave a political party, you can no longer become an Independent Member," Olo said during an interview with the Samoa Observer. 

"Like what happened to Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, Faumuina Wayne Fong and La'auli Leuatea Schmidt, who were all members of the H.R.P.P.  They are now Independent Members. 

"They have blocked Members from becoming independent if one wishes to leave the political party they were a part of. The new change to the Electoral Act suggests that once you walk away from a political party, it will automatically trigger a by-election. 

"I call the new changes intimidating tactics. The Prime Minister came up with this change to threaten his own party colleagues and members of the H.R.P.P."

Olo went as far as accusing the P.M. Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi of coming up with legislation to "imprison" members of the H.R.P.P. 

"It's like a law to keep the inmates inside prisons, so they don't run around freely," he said.

"You all heard what I said in Parliament, the change made to the Electoral Act is also discriminatory. For example, under the Constitution, there is freedom of movement within the country. If you want to switch from being a Methodist to becoming a member of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, you are free to do so, because of the freedom of religion. 

"But when it comes to Parliament, there is no freedom. They have blocked M.P.s from moving from one political party to another."

Olo claimed that the newly approved amendment is something you would find, "only in Samoa."

"You don't see this happening anywhere else in the world. The Prime Minister believes that the changes are done so there is stability in government," he said. 

"So I looked at other countries of the world and realised that this is something that is happening only in Samoa. In other countries, you are free to switch to another party, if you feel that in your own right that something is wrong with the leadership of the particular party you are a part of. You can freely walk away from a party. 

"The Australian government, for example, changed its Prime Minister twice in one year and they still have a stable government. So that is why I do not agree with what the Prime Minister has said.

"The other thing is, the Prime Minister keeps saying that whenever someone decides to leave a party, they should return to their constituency to do a by-election and ask them if they support the decision you made to switch to a different party. 

"I don't agree to that, I strongly believe that he only came up with the changes to tie the members of H.R.P.P. down and prevent them from switching. 

"The truth is, the decision on which political party an M.P. should join, must come from the people of the constituency."

Furthermore, Olo says he pitied the members who are now "trapped" inside of the ruling H.R.P.P. 

"I feel for the members of the H.R.P.P. as the majority of them did not know about this change and some don't even realize what has been done. 

"They also can't read the political game the Prime Minister is playing, but I, on the other hand, can see through the game Tuilaepa is playing. 

"That is something the members don't know and understand. Basically, all of them are just going to be stuck on their chairs and cannot move at all.

"Most of the members were not aware of this particular amendment, which is disappointing to see.
"Because a sign of good governance should be reflected in how they thoroughly discuss the amendments made to legislation so the members would be fully aware of the changes.

"That's why we continue to have this issue of legislation being brought into Parliament for discussions but ended up being pushed back for more discussions and consultations because the majority of the members aren't fully aware of the proposed changes most of the time."

He then wielded the axe to the Prime Minister and said: "The Prime Minister made an announcement that they were looking into that loophole, a few days after Fiame resigned from Cabinet and from H.R.P.P. 

"And then these were discussed and passed in Parliament a few days after he made that announcement. It seems like the Prime Minister woke up and realized that there is this loophole in the legislation, therefore he decided to block that loophole and change how it is done, without consulting any consultations. 

"As you may have been aware, the urgent Parliament sitting was called to redraft some parts of the Electoral Act following a recommendation from the Court after the Act was challenged in court by some election candidates. 

"Initially, that was the main reason why the meeting was called."

However, Olo was mindful that the three bodies (Executive, Parliament, and Court) are independent, and they don't interfere or intervene with each other. 

"So, Parliament can decide on what to do, based on the recommendations from the Court, but it does not mean that they should follow exactly what they are told to do.

"However, it still does not change the fact that the new change to stop M.P.'s from switching was done without careful consideration."

The law came into force last week Tuesday after the amendments to the Electoral Act 2019 were passed in Parliament under a notice of urgency signed by the Head of State.

After the changes were passed, leaders of other political parties and Independent M.P.'s have been vocal against the amendments.

The Tautua Samoa Party leader claimed that the amendment is an "injustice" and was put in place to stabilise the ruling Human Rights Protection Party and stop any more members from leaving. 

Another Independent M.P., Faumuina Wayne Fong, last week described the newly approved amendments as "prejudicial" to Members of Parliament. 

Faumuina, who is a former H.R.P.P. member, also claimed that the new amendments to the Electoral Act 2019, "infringes on M.P.'s rights."

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