Olo registers with F.A.S.T.; risks vacating seat

Salega No. 2 Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, will contest the next General Election for the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T) party. And although he will not face a by-election for switching, he could still be excluded from Parliament. 

Olo registered for F.A.S.T on Wednesday during the second day of candidate registration in Savai’i. 

Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, confirmed that the M.P.’s move will leave him safe from the prospect of a by-election under the country’s anti-party switching laws. 

But his future, at least for the remainder of the current term of Parliament, now lies in the hands of his colleagues, who could declare his seat vacant.

Olo says he intends to remain an independent member of Parliament until the Election in April next year. 

But Faimalomatumua, while definitively ruling out a by-election for the seat because of Olo’s seat, noted that Parliament could yet declare the seat “vacant”. 

The Commissioner told the Samoa Observer minutes after Olo submitted his official nomination form a by-election would not be triggered because the "law does not allow any by-election within six months before the election."

"First of all, there will be no by-election," Faimalo said. "And that's because we are now within the six months period from the election.

"But the fact that Olo was an independent M.P. until he declared himself as an official candidate for F.A.S.T. the law is very clear on that and he would have to vacate his seat."

However, the process of seat vacation lies within Parliament, Faimalo added. 

"And I think they (Parliament) have their own processes to adhere to,” he said. "Our job is not to manage the members, our job is to administer the process that elects the members of Parliament. 

"That's where we stand at the moment, we still have a job to do with nominating any more candidates from Savai'i before we move to Upolu."

But the veteran Parliamentarian for Salega No.2. was adamant after his official nomination that he will continue to serve as an independent M.P.

"It is my intention, and the wish of my constituency to register as a candidate for F.A.S.T. for the upcoming election," said Olo. 

"But I remain as an independent member up until Parliament is dissolved in January. 

"I have no other choice because this is what the constituency asked me to do. They wanted me to come back after nominating my name with the name F.A.S.T. on my ballot form. 

"I still have the chance to remain as an independent member until the end of this term, then I'll switch to F.A.S.T. if people vote for me in the 2021 election. But that is not what the constituency wanted, they asked me to register now and that's what I just did."

If Parliament were to exclude Olo by declaring his seat vacant he would miss sittings in November and January. The latter is likely to be a particularly contentious sitting as the findings of a Parliamentary committee soliciting public feedback on plans to overhaul the Land and Titles Court are expected to be tabled. 

Olo said he thought of the consequences of the move he made and had also explained to his constituency that he may lose his seat.

But it was a risk Olo said he was willing to take and one his constituency was prepared for, too. 

"I already explained to them that I may lose my seat because of what the law says. But it is a law that we need to look at carefully,” he said. 

But Olo also said that he might look at mounting a legal challenge to the law. 

“I am looking at challenging the law because there is no freedom there and it's undemocratic,” he said. 

"My intention was to run as a F.A.S.T. candidate next year, but I am not joining F.A.S.T. now. 

"This is the proof of the declaration I made in Parliament that my constituency had already asked me to join F.A.S.T. [...] but I was going to wait until after this Parliamentary term. 

“I am not bothered by their next move and what they will do to me. I worry about the next election.”

“This decision came from my constituency. If they vacate my seat, too bad I won't be in Parliament when it convenes. If that's what the law says, so be it. I can't do much about it. 

“But like I keep saying, these laws are undemocratic and not good for the people. The government made these laws and not me, so I don't want to say much about it.”

The M.P. said that he and his constituents had chosen to join F.A.S.T., founded by former Speaker La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, because he believed the party had a chance to challenge the incumbent Government. 

“We looked at joining a political party where freedom is exercised and allowed. Where members are able to voice their opinions without hesitation. We don't want to be a part of a party that has undemocratic policies and principles,” he said. 

“They have a fair chance of winning because of their policies and priorities. I feel sorry for the other Members inside the H.R.P.P. party because they can't talk because they have policies that forbid them from voice their opinions. That is something I do not accept.”

Questions sent to a spokesman for the Prime Minister were not returned by deadline. 

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