Chiefs' influence on elections concerns M.P.
Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3, Fa'aulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers, has cautioned that village councils might exercise undue “influence” over candidates and voters during the election.
“While measures are in place to protect the rights of the village councils, but at the same time the rights of voters and candidates should be protected as well,” the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.P) M.P. said.
The M.P. expressed her concerns over what she witnessed as possibly improper influence in previous elections.
But she voiced her reservations again during a sitting of Parliament on Tuesday where amendments to the Electoral Act 2019 were discussed before they were passed into law.
Fa'aolosau said village councils should not "influence" a candidate's wishes to run for office or on a voter’s decision on whom to vote for.
“It’s evident in previous elections there are weaknesses in the system and currently laws are being implemented to address these concerns to assure the integrity of the election process is intact,” she said. “And the same laws cater to protect the rights of candidates if they opt to run for office.”
The M.P. said the rights of voters and candidates should be upheld to assure they can “freely” cast their vote without influence from a village’s High Chiefs.
“I believe that while there are measures in place to protect the rights of the village councils, at the same time the rights of voters and candidates should be protected as well as indicated by our Constitution,” she said.
“This is to assure there is no influence by the chiefs and I say this with utmost respect to the chiefs. Also there should be more police officers around the voting booths.”
The M.P. offered suggestions such as imposing a legal barrier upon the voting booths which would limit how closely chiefs and others could stand while awaiting results.
“To protect the integrity of the election process the booths should be far away from where the Chiefs are during election times,” she said.
“This is to assure they cannot influence the voters and that Police Officers should be there to assure this does not happen. I know there are a number of issues during the elections and it must be addressed in Parliament so the electoral office can address it.”
Fa'aulusau pointed to a number of electoral laws passed over the years, yet members of the public don’t understand the nature of these bills.
The M.P. then appealed the Minister for the Office of the Electoral Commission, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, and the Electoral Commissioner to prioritise public awareness about the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“The awareness programs should not be limited to the current Members of Parliament; but it should be extended out to the public that way potential candidates are aware of these laws,” she said.
“There should be mandatory public outreach for the bills which should explain every aspect of the law to assure the public understands what each law means,” she said.
The M.P. noted her motive in voicing her concerns before Parliament was so that the Electoral Office could place due emphasis on upholding the rights of candidates and voters so they would not be affected by village council policies.
“For example, when a certain village rules there is only one candidate the entire village should vote for, that is the main concern that I am trying to get across and this way the [Electoral Office] can hammer the issue to assure that rights of the chiefs, candidates and voters are upheld,” she said.