Independent candidates can commit to party prior to oath

Candidates running as independent members in next year’s General Election can declare their allegiance to a political party, prior to the taking of their oaths at the start of the Parliamentary sitting.

The view is shared by two lawyers and election candidates amidst concerns that under the new Electoral Act, candidates who run as independents will not be able to join a political party, without risking a by-election.

Independent candidate for Gagaemauga No. 1, Tuala Tevaga Ponifasio, said the law has not changed when it comes to independents. He said the option is open to any independent candidate, who is successful after the April’s election, to join a party of their choice.

 “It is clear that you can choose which party you want to join [prior to swearing-in],” Tuala said in response to questions from Samoa Observer.

 “There is no law to force you to join a party as far as I understand and can become an independent Member in Parliament. You have that choice to join a party or remain as an independent [member].”

But Tuala said should the successful candidate cross the floor after being sworn in, it is then that a by-election is triggered.

Statistics released by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner shows that of the 71 candidates who have registered so far, three are independents.

Former Member of Parliament and lawyer, Papali’i Taeu Masipau, also agrees that the law has not changed when it comes to independent candidates.

According to Parliamentary Standing Orders, any member who takes the Oath of Allegiance before he or she is notified under a party as required by (2)(c) of this Order shall be recognised as an independent member for the duration of the parliamentary term.

 “Any member who ceases to be a member of a party under which he was notified as required by (2)(c) shall be recognised as an independent member for the rest of the parliamentary term,” it reads.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei said the Standing Order provides that once a member has taken the Oath of Allegiance as an independent member, they are recognised as an independent member for the rest of the Parliamentary term.

"If within the Parliamentary term they wish to change their independent status to join a party, that permits the seat to become vacant," he said.

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi had recently announced plans by the Government to consider amending the law to restrict candidates to contest under a political party.

According to Tuilaepa the amendment will prevent what he described as dishonest M.Ps from declaring they are independent when they are in fact affiliated with other political parties.

Asked about his views on the proposed change, Tuala said the move can pose complication to members.

 “Being an independent [member] is a choice and having a law that forces you to join a party that you don’t want to join is an issue,” he said.

 “It will become an issue for those that want to become independent. It’s not up to the member, it’s a choice that is up to the constituency and there will be complications.”

Tuala said he cannot preempt what the complications will be but any laws that are passed without consultation will create problems.

He pointed to the recent legal challenge on the electoral law that resulted in an urgent Parliament sitting last month to amend the act allowing Tuala to qualify for General Election.

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