Associate Minister unfazed by legal challenges
The Member of Parliament for Faleata No.3., Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, is unfazed by legal challenges being pursued by two candidates whose nominations were rejected by the Office of the Electoral Commission last week.
The rejection of the nominations of Paloa Louis Stowers and Toi Lealailepule Ioane made the incumbent M.P. and current Associate Minister of Communications and Information Technology one of few unopposed candidates when nominations closed.
Leala was overwhelmed when he first discovered that he was the only candidate for Faleata No.3. when the final list from the O.E.C. was published.
"I felt very humbled to be given the trust of the people of the village to be their respective representative in Parliament," he told the Samoa Observer. "I also thank God for this blessing. I can't really explain what I'm feeling. I just can't put it into words. It's such an honor.
"I thank our High Chief [Sa'o], Matai'a for putting their trust and faith in me once again."
However, the two candidates, Paloa and To'i have taken legal action against the O.E.C. for rejecting their nominations. And should they both win, Leala could face two opponents in the April Elections.
But the third-term Parliamentarian is not bothered by the threat, should the Supreme Court rule in their favour.
"It's good that there are other candidates who want to run, they have every right to run for the upcoming election,” he added.
Leala then moved to clear the air on reports that the ruling Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] was stopping candidates from running.
"We didn't stop anybody from running as some candidates claimed. No one can stop anybody from running.
“But the law is there and it is very clear that they have to serve the village and render their service through their monotaga.
"Anyone can run, they just have to make sure they are eligible."
He then went on to say he welcomes anyone who is willing to run against him in the election.
"I welcome any challenge by the way. People have the right to run if they want to. You see the number of election candidates has increased which is good.
"It's just that there is a misconception and getting wrong information about the ruling H.R.P.P. and us [current M.Ps] trying to hold people back from running. There is no such thing.
"This is the highest number of election candidates recorded ever since elections started. This is a reflection that nobody is holding anyone back.
"But the law is there to guide us. We didn't stop anyone, it's their case against the Electoral Commissioner. And I am not worried or nervous. This is my fourth time (running).
"Even before when we had several villages in the constituency, I was never worried and I still won. Now it's just Vaitele, but I've done my work and have been serving the constituency.
"But if there will be someone to run against me, good on them. If they can run, I welcome the challenge. I am never bothered by anything."
Leala, who first entered parliament in 2006, strongly believes that he has served his constituency well for the past 15 years as an M.P. For that reason, he is not worried about the upcoming election.
He spent the first ten years in Parliament as an Opposition member but believes he is now in the right party, and would not consider turning his back to the ruling party.
"No, I think I'm in the right party!"
In a recent interview with the village mayor of Vaitele, Toi Sakaria Taitu’ave, he confirmed the village council of Vaitele had decided that there will be no election for the constituency.
Toi said the decision from the village is to support their incumbent M.P. Lealailepule.
The constituency of Faleata No.3. consists of the villages of Vaitele tai which has a village council, and Vaitele uta and Vaitele fou that do not have a village council.
Those who can contest the seat in the constituency are restricted to those that render services and sit in the Vaitele tai village council.
Leala is the founder and interim chair of the Tautua Samoa party.
He became an M.P. in August 2006. He had previously served as Chief Executive Officer of the Airport Authority.
In November 2008, Leala was one of 12 [later whittled down to nine] M.P.s from the Samoan opposition to form a new political party, Tautua Samoa.
In 2016, Leala switched political parties to the H.R.P.P. In announcing his switch from Tautua to join the H.R.P.P. in 2016, Leala said he had contributed to the development of Samoa by poking holes in Government policies and pointed out where they can be improved, in his first 10 years in office.
However, he wanted to become more involved in the decision making of Government, especially given Faleata West’s strategic location in Samoa’s future plans, which was why he switched.
Leala has three children with Tagaloa Sharon Aiafi, two sons, and one daughter. He is the second of seven children of Tauolo Aiafi Lesatele and Melenaite Tauolo from the villages of Vaitele, Sataua, Asaga and Tonga.