End selective Electoral Act amendments: La'auli
The Leader of the Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, has criticised the Government for amending national electoral laws at will to suit their political purposes.
He said amendments, if necessary, should be wholesale and address issues concerning electoral constituency boundaries and other pressing matters, not piecemeal reforms that advantage the Government.
La'auli has also called for a complete overhaul of the Electoral Act to address what he has described as "discriminatory clauses" preventing Samoans living overseas from participating in the elections.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi has already indicated that the Government would amend the Electoral Act in relation to the monotaga after the Court disqualified six candidates and ordered registration of five new opponents after petitions.
But La'auli said there is more to the Electoral Act than just the monotaga (service) requirement that candidates must fulfill.
“There should be an overhaul of the Electoral Act and not just an amendment to the monotaga,” La’auli said.
“There are concerns about the registration of voters that now requires those from Savai'i to go back there to vote. There is also the six months period given to candidates to declare their political parties that has led to the matter from Olo and Faumuina and the multiple petitions…”
The former Speaker reminded about the division of constituencies that led to the removal of one seat for Savaii [Saleaula] and an additional one for Upolu that he strongly opposed.
He lamented the inability of Samoan overseas to vote, claiming the law now requires them to reside in Samoa for six months before they can cast their votes and for candidates to live in Samoa for at least three years.
He argues that the Prime Minister is making life difficult for Samoans overseas.
“There is not one Samoan living overseas that is not sending remittances back home to their families,” he said.
“You cannot say that those Samoans are not pure Samoans just because they reside overseas. Those are his own beliefs but for Samoans the water will always flow back to the channel that it came from.”
Asked to explain, La’auli said no matter where Samoans go overseas to work and reside, they will always come back to their roots.
He made reference to Samoans that are now Members of the Parliament in New Zealand and are proud to acknowledge their roots.
“Those members speak our language in the House and are proud to identify themselves as Samoans,” he said.
“That is their connection back home to their heritage…that is why I am saying that this law should be overhauled so that the election can be democratic and not just to protect those in power.”
La’auli also suggested that even those matai living overseas should be allowed to contest as they are still rendering service from abroad (aitau malele).
He said that every matai understands their village protocols and sitting and before they became matai they have been serving the village as untitled men.
In his view, they too have the right to run and should be allowed to run for office as long as they render their service to the village but not necessarily reside in Samoa for 3 years.
The Prime Minister had previously cautioned voters to be wary of a policy being promoted by rival party F.A.S.T. to allow overseas Samoan voters.
He emphasised that there are over 750,000 Samoans living overseas and close to 200,000 within the country, which would make the voting outcome lopsided in favour of Samoans living abroad.
“Absentee ballots are always an issue that America and New Zealand elections face during their elections and we will not attempt it no matter what,” said Tuilaepa.
“And some of the issues to be considered are that local people know the candidates and members of Parliament, versus those that are overseas only known of these people through what is publicized over social media.”
“And so this means the Samoans overseas will dominate and decide the leaders that will rule the country. If they want to vote, they can get on the plane and come to Samoa to cast their ballot.”
Tuilaepa claimed that previous Samoan Prime Ministers did not entertain absentee ballots because they knew the “danger” that it presented.