Election petitions revealed
Details of the extraordinary 28 election challenges filed to the Supreme Court - including three legal challenges between Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) colleagues - were revealed on Saturday.
The petitions represent a 300 per cent increase from the only six that were filed after the 2016 General Election.
All of those were later withdrawn for a number of reasons including an inability to prove the accusations on which the petitions were based including alleged treating and bribery. If court challenges are successful and results are voided, voters are sent back to the polls for by-elections.
A total of 28 candidates in the 9 April election have raised questions before the court about the conduct of their winning candidate, the Electoral Commissioner, or both.
The long-ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) filed a total of 14 electoral petitions; eleven against their Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) rivals and three against their own winning party members.
H.R.P.P.’s Fuatimau Maumea Leniu is challenging another H.R.P.P. candidate and former M.P. Sulamanaia Tauiliili Tuivasa. No F.A.S.T. candidate contested the Vaimauga No.1 seat in the General Election.
From the constituency of Siumu, H.R.P.P. 's Tuuu Amaramo Sialaoa is challenging his party colleague and former M.P. Tuuu Anasii Leota. The official count showed an almost 50 per cent difference in votes between the two.
From Aleipata Itupa I Lalo, former M.P. Tafua Maluelue Tafua petitioned against newcomer and fellow H.R.P.P. member, Fiugalu Eteuati Eteuati. There was just over three per cent difference between the two in official results.
Should the electoral petition be upheld, and the H.R.P.P. candidates have their victories declared void, rival parties can field by-election potentially taking a seat away from the party.
The Electoral Act 2019 allows for nominations of candidates for the triggered by-election.
Samoan political analyst, Dr. Christina Laalaai-Tausa said post-election petitions are made for two major reasons: to overturn the electoral decision or to manage a candidate’s political reputation.
"But when candidates of the same party petition each other, a third element can be added- it then becomes a strategy for upcoming elections, where results of such cases can be used for an opposing party in the future or it can also be used to prolong the decision making process," she told the Samoa Observer on Saturday.
"Most likely, the H.R.P.P. candidates filing on their own is to do with saving face and managing political reputation, doing it for the voters and the people that supported them.
"Although they lost, they still gave it their all and even taking members of their own party to court to prove that 1) there was [an] illegal practice done and 2) that they are determined to be the representative if not now, certainly in the future."
On the other side, F.A.S.T. filed 10 petitions against winning members from the H.R.P.P. including Deputy Leader, Lauofo Fonotoe Pierre of Anoamaa No. 2 and caretaker Ministers, Tapunuu Niko Lee Hang of Vaimauga No. 3 and Loau Keneti Sio of Sagaga No. 1.
In turn, the F.A.S.T. party will be defending 14 seats in total from petitions filed by H.R.P.P., but also the Tautua Samoa Party and an independent candidate.
(H.R.P.P. will be facing only one challenge from an independent in the seat of Sagaga where presumptive M.P.-elect Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli is being challenged by Maualaivao Patelesio Ah Him.)
The Tautua Samoa Party, despite vowing to support F.A.S.T.’s efforts to achieve a change in Government, filed two petitions against F.A.S.T. candidates in the party’s Savai’i stronghold including a legal challenge from their leader, Afualo Dr. Wood Salele.
Two petitions were filed by Independent Members, each against F.A.S.T. and H.R.P.P. winning members.
They are, Former Associate Minister of Health, Maualaivao Patelesio Ah Him against H.R.P.P.’s Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli for the Sagaga No.2 seat and Former M.P, Ili Setefano Taateo Tafili against F.A.S.T.’s first-timer, Agaseata Tanuvasa Peto from Aana Alofi No. 3.
Dr. Laalaai-Tausa said that whilst post-election petitions are not unusual, they do raise questions about the integrity and administration of the election and the conduct of the candidates.
"We may see more cases being withdrawn if there is not enough evidence as we have seen in the past, but we may also see may be between three to five by-elections particularly if the court decides that both candidates were involved in illegal practices, which takes both candidates out and then calls for a by-election," she said.
"However, this will be complex as although each party may have a number of potential hopefuls, it will be a question of whether those candidates fulfil the requirements as per the electoral laws.
"We saw the difficulty with this during the general election, in particular with constituencies where the pulenuu (village mayor) refused to sign forms for some candidates."
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, Moliei Simi Vaai, seven different law firms are involved in the legal representation of petitioners and it is their responsibility to serve a copy of the petition on each respondent named.
Counter petitions and responses must be filed within 5 working days after receipt of the service of the petition.
Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, the independent M.P. dubbed the “kingmaker” of a deadlocked election who ultimately lent his support to F.A.S.T. is also being challenged by his H.R.P.P. rival Laufou Alofipo Faamanu Manase.
Until the Office of the Electoral Commission added a seat to Parliament the night before Tuala’s declaration of support his support had been believed to have been critical to deciding the outcome of the election.
(In 2011 four petitions were sustained by the court and resulted in by-elections).