Op-Ed | Challenging attempts to cling onto power
May I first acknowledge the patience and the dignity with which the people of this country have dealt with the events which have occurred since the 9 April 2021 General Elections and the declaration of the official results signed into law by the Head of State (by warrant) on 12 April (for the three unopposed members including myself) and the wining candidates of the other 48 electoral districts on 16 April 2021.
Those Warrants confirmed that FAST candidates had 24 elected members, and with the support of Tuala Tevaga Iosefa Ponifasio and myself (who stood as Independents), the FAST party had 26 elected members as opposed to HRPP’s 25 elected members, giving us a clear majority of one Member.
Under the Constitution, once the Independent elected member: Tuala Ponifasio, decided to support the FAST party, then I had the right to approach the Head of State as well as the Clerk of the Parliament to call together all the elected Members to be sworn in, including myself as the new Prime Minister and those chosen to be the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Ministers of Cabinet.
Tuala Ponifasio decided to announce his decision on Wednesday 21 April 2021.
On Tuesday 20 April at 11.00pm late at night, the Electoral Commissioner issued a statement and a Warrant of election of a 6th woman member bringing the number of elected Members to 26 HRPP.
The next day, Wednesday 21 April Tuala Ponifasio announced his support for FAST bringing the number of FAST members to 26 and resulting in 26-26 elected members each.
We sought legal advice which told us that the requirement for a minimum of 5 women had already been met by the voters in the general election, who elected five women candidates who had the highest votes in five electoral districts on 9 April 2021. These five women were also declared elected by Warrants of Election signed by the Head of State on 12th April (for me) and 16th April for the other four women, meeting the minimum Constitutional quota of 5 women.
We filed a claim in the Supreme Court to ask the Court to decide whether the Electoral Commissioners actions were legal. That decision is being given on Monday 17 May 2021.
On Tuesday 4th May, the day before the Court was due to have the hearing of our case on Wednesday 5th May , the Head of State called me to a meeting with the Prime Minister, where he advised me that he was going to call fresh elections (for the reasons then explained by the Prime Minister including the impact of Covid, the need for a budget, the hung parliament, the number of petitions) to which I did not agree and asked if he could wait until the Court had decided our claim which would likely resolve the ‘hung parliament’ issue, but he continued with his plan and at 8.00pm a Proclamation and writ of general election was issued
- Calling another general election on Friday 21 May 2021;
- Revoking/voiding/ignoring the Warrants of election of 12, 16 and 20th April which he had already signed.
Again we sought advice and our advice was the Head of State has no power to call a second general election when one had already been conducted on 9 April 2021 and he had signed the Warrants of Election of 51 plus the additional woman member.
Secondly we were advised that in those particular circumstances, the Head of State had No power to call a second general election for next week.
Again our party was forced to seek the Courts decision as to whether what the Head of State in rejecting the results of our general election held on 9 April 2021, had the power to do so and also whether he had the power to call another general election just 6 weeks after the first and in our view legal and legitimate general election.
On Monday 17 May 2021, the Supreme Court of Samoa will deliver two decisions:
- FAST Party v Electoral Commissioner, Tuuau where we have challenged the decision by the Electoral Commissioner and the Head of State to appoint and add a new Member of Parliament; and
- FAST Party; Fiame Naomi; Laauli Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt; Olo Fiti Afoa; Leatinuu Wayne Sooalo; Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio; Faualo Harry Jeffrey Schuster aand Toeilesulusulu Cedric Pose Schuster; Luatua Semi Epati, Saina Tomi Setu and Afamasaga Toleafoa v AG, OEC, HRPP & Samoa Law Society - where we have challenged the lawfulness of the decision by the Head of State to call new elections and completely cancel the results of the original election on 9 April 2021.
- That case was about respecting and protecting the decisions that 89,000 of us all voted for on 9 April 2021.
I know that people will be confused about what has happened, but put simply the HRPP Government has used every means legal and (we say) illegal, to stop us from taking our rightful seats in Parliament and to form the Government based on the peoples votes on 9 April 2021:
- FAST had the majority of the elected members on Wednesday 21st April and was able to form Government, if not for the actions taken not by the voters, but by government officials (who are supposed to act in the public interest and do best for us all according to the law). That did not happen and when HRPP and the Caretaker PM was about to lose power, he changed the rules of the game and we say, broke the law.
- When HRPP and the Caretaker PM could see they were likely to lose the additional woman case because the law was very clear – another move was made (and approved by the Head of State) to stop us from having the majority in Parliament by scrapping the results of the General Election and calling a new general election with only two weeks’ notice.
We all remember the efforts of the Electoral Commissioner to prepare for the 2021 Election since 2017 and to:
- Make sure the electors rolls were accurate and encouraging the 21 year olds to register and anyone who still wasn’t registered;
- Make sure the candidates eligibility was confirmed with a number of electoral cases decided by the Supreme Court last October and November 2020;
- Requiring candidates to register 6 months before the likely election date;
- Registering any new political parties;
- Arranging the training and appointment of electoral staff and the arrangements for the movement of voters to their home villages;
There is absolutely nothing about the election HRPP wants to hold next Friday, that resembles the General Election of 9 April 2021, yet they have made very sure the advantage is in their favor so have been allowed to withdraw 39 of their candidates, have refused any new candidates, or enrolled any 21 year olds who turned 21 in the last 6 months, and have now declared Special booths under last night’s Emergency Orders so people can vote in Apia (not allowed under the law), but now shamelessly slipped into Emergency Orders justified to protect against the introduction of COVID-19.
We have undertaken the proper process to challenge these attempts to cling onto power.
We have sought direction from this country’s Supreme Court on both acts by the HRPP Caretaker government and we await the decisions on Monday.
In doing so we publicly commit ourselves, the FAST party and all its members and supporters to accepting the decision of the Supreme Court in both cases.
In doing so we say, as a matter of principle, that the Rule of Law must be maintained in Samoa, and the law declared by the Supreme Court will be honored and followed by the Government, by the Caretaker Prime Minister and by the Head of State.
In this regard we would invite the Head of State to refrain from issuing any further declarations or proclamations or writs of any sort, unless and until the two Supreme Court decisions are delivered, and any future action taken by him is taken in accordance with the law pronounced by the Supreme Court and no other body. His oath of Office demands that he satisfy the following requirements of office:
‘I [the Head of State], swear by Almighty God that I will uphold the dignity of the office of Head of State, and will justly and faithfully carry out my duties in the administration of the Independent State of Samoa, in accordance with the Constitution and the law. So help me God.’
Should there be any further proclamation today (Sunday 16 May or Monday 17 May 2021) which attempts to undermine or super cede the outcome of the Courts two decisions tomorrow, then I would, and the people of this country, and the world would, consider that the Head of State has fundamentally breached his oath of office and for the second time in four weeks may have acted contrary to the Articles of the Constitution and the law of this land.
We have consistently advocated for following the rule of law, due process and the independence of the judiciary
We expect and demand that the Caretaker Government does the same.
If we win, then we will ask the Clerk of Parliament and invite the Head of State to immediately call Parliament so we may be sworn in and confirm that we have the majority of elected Members of Parliament to form government, as you voted for five long weeks ago.
Our Constitution was the product of the wishes and aspirations of our new and independent nation by all the leaders of our country: by matai, by businessmen and Samoans from all backgrounds.
We must maintain the peace and dignity promised by that document by following the law and the due process of law and ask that all those who act for the benefit of the public do the same.
Honorable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa