Tuilaepa calls for election improvements

Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi says a constitutional change requiring voters to return home to cast ballots was among the flaws in the election process exposed in last month’s poll. 

Speaking on state-owned 2AP radio on Thursday, Tuilaepa said that the recommendations for improving the electoral process have been made to the Office of the Electoral Commissioner ahead of a snap election, scheduled for 21 May.

The Head of State, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvii II, proclaimed the results of the 9 April election voided on Tuesday evening. 

Parliament amended the Electoral Act 2019 to allow voters to register to vote based on where they permanently live, rather than where they were born or have extended family, such as where they are a suli (heir) to family land.

Tuilaepa said the decision was a result of recommendations from past Savai’i Members of Parliament and lessons from previous elections.

But Tuilaepa said the most recent election had shone a light on issues that have “made the situation” worse, he said.

“There were instances that were not foreseen, including the fact that when people traveled over, it was a public holiday and there were no running buses,” he said.

“Even though there are many families with vehicles now, it highlighted some running candidates’ demeanors.

“So whilst it was a change made from good intentions, this election has shown that this is not a good practice, it has increased the number of problems compared to before.”

Tuilaepa said the reactivation of special votes for the upcoming election was appropriate given the current precautions required of people due to the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Remember the impacts of the COVID-19 falls mostly on struggling families with financial problems due to the loss of jobs as well as reduced remittances due to families overseas also affected by the pandemic,” he said.

“So we can cover this under the State of Emergency restrictions, to allow the practice of what we did in previous general elections.

“We can do it, but the Cabinet is waiting for advice from the Office of the Electoral Commissioner so we can address that issue from the most recent election.

“So even if you live in Lepa and have to cast a vote in Asau, you don’t have to come all the way to Apia to vote. You can vote from Lepa in a special voting booth, marked as a special vote.

“There are a hundred thousand ways we can do this. It is in our efforts to do something about the concerns of the people that is warranting all these changes, but the most important thing here is that we have done it and we have found out that it is not good.

“Why go to Savaii when you can cast votes from here (Upolu), especially now when the rolls have been filtered to remove all those who should be excluded?”

Tuilaepa said that the cameras needed to be installed at polling booths to minimise unlawful activities.

“The intention of this Government is to ensure that everything is done correctly and the general elections are done properly,” he said.

“If the election says we have to leave this office, we won’t wait any longer to do that so we can start preparations on how to contribute to Samoa as the opposition.

“We also wish to go to our families but the reason we remain here is that we have to observe the law. What the F.A.S.T. (Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi) are claiming is not right, and we do not accept it.”

Last week, FAST leader, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, said Samoan voters gave her party the right to govern at last month's election.

Tuilaepa said if the result of the upcoming May 21 Election says they have to surrender Government the party “will leave happily and with gratitude to God for these long years we served Samoa.”

The F.A.S.T. party chairman, Laauli Leautea Schmidt, has strongly advocated against forcing constituents to travel in order to vote in their home village and has called for more options for inter-island voting in the future.

The concerns have been previously addressed by the Electoral Commissioner. 

The commissioner said recent changes to the Electoral Act 2019 were meant to fix the issues, by encouraging voters to register to vote from the village they live in usually and vote for the person vying for candidacy there.

The Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, has also said voters should want to have their say in the constituency they spend the most time in, not the one they traditionally call home. 

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