Samoa First wants independent electoral office

The Samoa First party has come out in support of an independent electoral office, the second political party to do so after former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa proposed the change.

Fiame proposed the change in Parliament less than a week ago, after she had already resigned her position as the Deputy Prime Minister and deputy of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).

Feagaimaalii Toomalatai Bruce, who spoke to the Samoa Observer on behalf of Samoa First, said the country would benefit from making the office independent.

“It (the Electoral Office) could influence the elections,” Feagaimaalii said.

“Especially because the [H.R.P.P. are] in power, and [such a reform would be] for the sake of other [political] parties.”

Last week the Prime Minister challenged Fiame to clarify her call to make the Office of the Electoral Commissioner independent and to explain exactly what independence means in reference to the commissioner.

Speaking on his weekly radio programme on 2AP, the Prime Minister said the Electoral Commissioner is independent.

Fiame said it appears necessary to have to have the Commissioner’s Office independent from the group of lawmakers who were likely to pass self-interested legislation.

“The office of the Electoral Commissioner needs to be independent because it is different from our circle of people that deal with legislation and politics,” she said.

“We need to protect it to ensure the independence of this office to guarantee there is equality in our elections and our electoral laws so that there is no bias or discrimination against others.”

As the Samoa Observer reported on Monday, a legal expert said changes to the Electoral Act will allow Cabinet alone to redraw constituency boundaries without the involvement of Parliament in the process. 

Last week Tautua Samoa Party leader, Luagalau Dr. Afualo Salele, backed the call for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner to be made independent from any political affiliations.

Luagalau alleged that amendments to electoral law passed last week were designed to entrench the party of Government. 

Samoa First said it will release further information on their election platform later this week. 

Among the policies will be their views on the passage of the Electoral Act (No. 2) 2020 and whether the Deputy Prime Ministership must be filled according to the constitution.

“Of course we need that (a Deputy Prime Minister). A Deputy Prime Minister needs to be appointed, according to the law,” Feagaimaalii said.

Former District Court Judge, Lefau Harry Schuster, told the Observer the position of Deputy Prime Minister must be appointed under the constitution at all times.

Following Fiame’s resignation, Tuilaepa assumed the position for himself. 

Also a former M.P., Lefau said there is a reason the office is embedded in the constitution.

Failure to fill it is "not following the letter of the law and the constitution," he cautioned.

“In my view the importance of the position is that it’s enshrined in the Constitution to guarantee that there is no vacancy and gap in the top leadership that is the deputy P.M.,” said Lefau. 

“There is a vacuum to appoint the Deputy P.M. so that if anything happens to the Prime Minister they take over.”

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has told the media that he can carry both roles especially as the April general election is not far away.

He referenced the changes to the Electoral Amendments 2020, passed last week Tuesday. He said the law closes a loophole allowing “dishonest M.P.s to switch parties.

Days after Fiame resigned from the H.R.P.P. and became an independent member, Tuilaepa announced the government was moving to close “loopholes” in legislation designed to stop M.P.s from crossing the floor.

Last week, Tautua Samoa Party leader Luagalau Dr. Afualo Salele voiced his party’s support for an independent electoral office.

“The Office of the Electoral Commission should be independent and a Constitutional Authority and we share the concern pointed out by Fiame [Naomi Mata’afa],” Luagalau said.

He claimed the Electoral Office has no independence at all. 

“It’s evident these [electoral] laws are put in place to protect the ruling party and to keep them in power,” Luagalau said.

Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio disputes the need for such reforms.

“Our office has always been independent when executing its core functions of registering voters, managing and administering elections [and] advising Cabinet, through the Honourable Minister, of issues relating to elections,” he said.

Parliament’s next sitting is scheduled for 27 November, 2020.





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