Nominations closed, and now the fun begins
Two hundred candidates will contest the General Elections next April. Although that number could increase, subject to legal challenges against the Office of the Electoral Commissioner’s decision to reject some nominations, it’s fair to say the nation now has a fair idea about who they can expect to be in Parliament after April’s General Election. Anything could happen.
The closing of the nomination period wrapped up a very interesting two weeks where all eyes were on who was going to register and which party they were going to go. While it was never disputed that the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) would have the highest number of candidates, there was a lot of interest on who was going to sign up for the ‘new kid on the block’ in terms of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa Ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.).
All those questions were answered when the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio and his team released their official list on Friday afternoon. Everyone will have something to say about the contenders. After a quick glance at the list, it’s definitely a mixed bag of new, old, good, great, bad and the ugly but that’s not unexpected.
Of 200 candidates, 114 are for the H.R.P.P., 50 for F.A.S.T., 14 for the Tautua Samoa Party, 15 independent candidates, six Samoa First and one Sovereign Independent Samoa Party. The total number represents an increase of 23 percent compared to 2016 when 83 candidates ran for H.R.P.P., 23 for Tautua Samoa Party and 60 independents.
It’s a list that is going to create a lot of conversations around the country in the next few months. An interesting talking point will be the Lepa seat where Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who has been running uncontested for the last couple of elections, now has two challengers.
Not too far down the road at Lotofaga is Tuilaepa’s former Deputy, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who has already secured her return to Parliament as an independent candidate. Fiame was among three incumbent Members of Parliament whose seats are not being contested.
The other two include the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio and the Associate Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi. Whether the period given for candidates to challenge the decision by the O.E.C. could change the state of play in these seats, we can only wait to find out.
But there is a real sense that this 200 number could change, pending Court decisions. We know for a fact that F.A.S.T. is looking at filing at least four legal challenges in different seats. Last week, we had the Secretary of F.A.S.T., Va'aaoao Salu Alofipo, accuse Government-paid village mayors and women representatives of obstructing with some of their nominations. Va'aaoao said they fused to endorse the paperwork for their candidates.
“We are sad about this because it reflects the biases and discriminatory conduct of [people in] such positions,” he said. “These are positions of the Government and they are responsible for the signing of these papers and yet they keep running away avoiding our candidates. Why are they treating us differently compared to other political parties?
“Are we not citizens of Samoa? What a pity. They should be giving everyone an equal opportunity. Our right to enter the general election is being suppressed.”
But there is always two sides to a story. A few days ago, one of those village mayors, Toi Sakaria Taituave, of Vaitele, defended his decision not to sign off on a candidate’s paperwork. Referring to Paloa Louis Stowers, one of the five F.A.S.T. candidates, who encountered problems with his nomination, Toi said the candidate had not rendered any monotaga with the village council.
“It's as simple as that,” Toi said. “It's close to 20 years since I became secretary of Vaitele and for most of the time I rarely see Paloa during village matters and that is confirmed in the letter to the Electoral Commissioner we prepared.”
If that is the truth, then so be it. That said, we sincerely hope that is the case for all these other candidates whose candidacies have been rejected. There will always be questions surrounding the allegiance of village mayors and women representatives to the H.R.P.P. and what their political motives are, given the fact they are on the payroll. It is not beyond the realms of possibility they are accused of making life difficult for people who do not support their paymasters.
But then the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, is quite clear on the law and the responsibilities of the village mayors and women representatives. According to Faimalo, it is illegal for a village mayor to avoid signing a candidate’s election form and without a valid reason; they are obliged to endorse every candidate.
So how much, if any role at all, did the Government have on some of the candidates being denied by the O.E.C.? What about internal village politics where some other candidates would have been hamstrung given the requirements by the law?
Well we will find out a lot more in the next two weeks, when the legal challenges are lodged and heard. There is no question we are well into the election fever and every development from here onwards will be observed and scrutinized very closely.
But then we don’t expect anything less. This election certainly has got a different feel to it with a number of intriguing dynamics that could play a major role in the determination of this nation’s political future. These are anxious times. Stay tuned!