Parties criticise "murky" nomination process
Political parties have criticised what they have described as a "murky" and unusually strict registration process for this April's election, which has resulted in several candidates' nominations being rejected.
Several candidates from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party, Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and one from the Tautua Samoa Party were disqualified for falling short of candidate qualification rules this year.
Leader of the Tautua Samoa and candidate for Salega 1, Afualo Dr. Wood Salele, described the tight screening of candidates this year was “murky and unnecessary.”
Compared to previous elections, the former M.P. said the process is growing worse and putting unnecessary pressure on the Electoral Office to monitor multiple amendments to the law.
“I know from the beginning we have always had the monotaga (requirement) but it needs to be refined,” he pointed out.
“By now we shouldn’t have to deal with the scenario where candidates have to chase after village mayors to certify their monotaga. I think that the authority given to the village mayor is misplaced and it’s something that should be looked at again…”
Afualo added that there is too much authority given to village mayors, when there should be other options that a candidate can consider in order to justify their monotaga.
This is considering that some villages are divided into two councils but only one village mayor is appointed, he said.
“So if the village mayor refuses to sign for whatever reason then what other avenue is there for the candidates," Afualo said.
“The reality is the Electoral Office is then blamed due to these internal disputes, but they are simply following amendments of the law and you know what they say about the law.
“In the absence of that other supplement that candidates can go to certify their monotaga it all ends up in the Court.”
The electoral requirement for candidates to confirm his or her monotaga requires the village mayor or women representative and five other matai (chiefs) to sign off on and confirm this on the nomination form.
But even the multiple signatures required to certify one’s candidacy are unnecessary pressure on a candidate, said Afualo.
He said instead of making the process transparent and straight forward the tight screening is rather discouraging people from contesting.
“All of these have become a dissent for those wanting to run and it's an obstacle that is discouraging others,” he said.
“The whole essence of election is to encourage people to run for office so we can elect good people to run the country. But the most likely outcome of this is forcing people to break the law and look at avenues to beat the law…we don’t want that.”
The Chairman and founding member of F.A.S.T., La’auli Leautea Schmidt, echoed those concerns.
In contrast with previous elections, the former Speaker said this has been one of the most difficult registrations he has ever been involved with.
“The Government has made it very tough,” claimed La’auli.
“This is the law I walked out of the party over; the Electoral Act. They are taking away our fundamental rights to put extra burdens on us.”
To assist their candidates with the nomination, the senior M.P. said the party set up an office near the Electoral Office as part of their process strategies.
“There's no more freedom,” he said.
“That's why I walked out of my party. It's no longer the [Human Rights Protection Party].
“It's a party protection party.”
But the discontent expressed by the political parties was dismissed by H.R.P.P. Whip, Alai’asa Sepulona Moananu.
In response to queries from the Samoa Observer, the M.P. defended the Government, saying candidate scrutiny laws are passed in the Parliament and do not discriminate against any political party or person.
“The role of Parliament is to pass legislation to improve the process and for better developments,” he added.
“To claim that the laws are made to disqualify their candidates and reduce their numbers is wrong…”
To justify his point, Alai’asa said even the H.R.P.P. had several of its candidates disqualified because of the nomination requirements.
Although he could not confirm the total number of their candidates disqualified, he said the accusations from the opposition political parties are unfounded.
He added he is aware of about three candidates from the party not being on the listed candidates approved, but it is possible there are more when the caucus meets on Wednesday to finalise their numbers.
In addition, he urged candidates and those intending to contest to get into Parliament in the future to be aware of charges they might face in court and filed by Police.
“Some people are charged with great charges like for crashing into a hedge and the consequences will disqualify them,” he said.
“People should be awake and know the difference between the charges they are charged with and the gravity of their offence they commit.
“They should challenge the charges pressed if they see that it should be a lot lesser…”
It was reported on Tuesday that I’a Sa’u Kaisara, of Tafagamanu and Savaia Lefaga, found that a past incident in which he had crashed his car into a hedge, for which he was fined $400, was reason enough for the Office of the Electoral Commission to refuse to accept his registration.
Several candidates have had their nominations rejected due to their previous convictions and Police records.
Attempts have been made to seek comment from the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio.