La'auli rejects O.E.C. seat shortage claims

The founder and deputy leader of Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.), La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, describes claims the party controls only 24 Parliamentary seats as misinformation from the Electoral Commissioner. 

Complicating matters about F.A.S.T.’s numbers in Parliament are the fact that two of its candidates did not officially declare they were joining forces with the party until the party dissolved. 

Even the party’s leader, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, ran notionally as an independent candidate; she had not officially become leader until the dissolution of the final session of the 16th Parliament. 

The most recent candidate to announce he was joining F.A.S.T., Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, openly ran as an independent. 

Only independent M.P.s may declare their allegiance to a party after an election is held, a process carried out during their swearing-in and taking the oath of office. 

La’auli took to Facebook live on Sunday evening to respond to a statement from the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) that F.A.S.T. officially only holds 24 seats because Fiame and Tuala were not officially attached to the party.

“As of this evening, we confirm that there are 26 official representatives who have been elected and registered into our family of Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi, contrary to some notices which continue to be put out by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner and announcements from other political parties,” he said.

“This has caused some [some ambiguities and] worry amongst our supporters and families.

“This is why I have thought in my capacity as the Chairman to reassure our family of supporters than as of this evening, Sunday, we have 26 Members confirmed from F.A.S.T., including Tuala Ponifasio and the Sa’o Fa’apito (Fiame).

“Statements seemed to say that Fiame and Tuala are still registered as independent members but those terms during the nomination period ahead of the election have passed.”

Laauli said that both have been registered as recognised members of F.A.S.T. as of Thursday last week.

“For clarity, as of right now, they are no longer independent members; [the] positions have been appointed plus official registrations have been made; hence we have 26 confirmed members,” he said.

“They have signed and agreed to all requirements to be admitted as official Members of our F.A.S.T. family.”

He added that a letter detailing their official Party appointments and the names of its confirmed Members for the XVII Parliament has been submitted to both the Legislative Assembly Clerk and the Head of State for their endorsement.

“We have also submitted a copy of this letter to the Office of the Electoral Commissioner so that they do not make such statements again, that Fiame and Tuala are independent members.”

The party’s leader and the M.P. for Lotofaga, Fiame, has been included among F.A.S.T. seats in officially sanctioned preliminary results. This practice has been followed right up until the addition of an extra seat to Parliament last Tuesday by the O.E.C.

Questions sent to the O.E.C. relating to the issue did not receive a response by press time. 

Currently, the H.R.P.P. has 26 seats, tying it with the nine-month old opposition newcomer F.A.S.T.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame nominated for the 2021 General Election as an independent candidate to avoid the consequences of anti-party switching laws that, if violated, can trigger a by-election. 

Salega No. 2 Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, and Faleata No. 2 Member of Parliament, Faumuina Leatinu'u Fong, were ousted from Parliament after declaring they would be running F.A.S.T. candidates at the next election. That decision was made by the then-Speaker of the Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Apulu Fa'afisi, because the M.P.s were sitting in Parliament as independents

The Electoral Act 2019 requires an elected Independent Member to sit in the Legislative Assembly as a member of the political party the member has joined while undertaking the oath of office.

La’auli’s announcement comes after it was revealed that the swearing-in ceremony for the XVII Parliamentary term was now “highly unlikely” to be held anytime soon, the Legislative Clerk, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulele said. In view of the nation’s now “hung parliament” he said officials were now opting to wait for a definitive election result before proceeding to swear in M.P.s.

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