Urgent Parliament session should not rush Electoral law
Parliament is reconvening earlier than scheduled today. Given the recent developments in the ruling Human Rights Protection Party hierarchy, especially the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the urgent session will be observed quite closely locally and internationally for several reasons.
There is no doubt that all eyes will be on how Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi will conduct himself in the absence of a deputy and amidst other challenges he and the ruling party have had to endure in recent times.
What will he say? What other tricks has he got under his sleeves while the nation is observing?
Members of the public will also be interested in how Fiame will behave. We say this because it will be a significant day for Fiame when she walks into Parliament after two decades of being an H.R.P.P. member, and having spent most of that time as a Cabinet Minister.
What will be going through her mind when she walks towards a new side of the Maota Fono where she will share seats with that lone crusader in Olo Fiti Vaai and his newfound friends in Faumuina Wayne Fong and Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt?
Speaking of La’auli, it will also be a big moment for the former Speaker and Cabinet Minister. After he was forced to resign despite not having submitted a written resignation a month ago, La’auli is making a return to Parliament having survived a by-election challenge at Gagaifomauga No. 3.
La’auli’s story has been well told and we will not delve into it anymore in this piece. What will be even more fascinating is that La’auli is introducing a new party to Parliament, making history by becoming the first Fa’atuatua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Member of Parliament to occupy a seat at Mulinu’u. In doing so Samoa, Samoa’s Parliament will have three parties represented, the H.R.P.P., Tautua Samoa and F.A.S.T., which is something we have not seen in a very long time.
These are the dynamics that make Tuesday’s Parliamentary session quite intriguing. It’s easy to understand why the public would be unhappy that the proceedings would not be live on Facebook as they have become accustomed to in the recent past.
But even more intriguing is how Parliament will handle the amendments to the Electoral Act 2019, which is the real reason they have brought the session forward, as opposed to when it was originally scheduled for 6 October 2020.
Recently, the Electoral Act 2019 became subject to a Constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court. Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papali’i Panoa Tavita, who lodged the claim, alleged that the Electoral Act was “discriminatory” and “unconstitutional.” A hearing ensued and what was revealed, including the evidence by the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, was extremely telling in so far as giving us a glimpse into the Government’s law making process.
In any case, the claim by Tuala and Papali’i was later withdrawn with the parties reaching an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office. Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala – Warren granted the withdrawal of the matter after the parties had signed a memorandum to amend parts of the Electoral Act 2019.
What those changes are we don’t know as the Court has ruled that they are confidential. They can only be revealed until the Electoral Act is changed.
How soon can we find out? Well that depends if the changes are passed today or this week. The Parliamentary process however started on Monday during a pre-Parliament briefing, which again was kept behind closed doors.
The spanner in the works is that the new and revised Electoral Act must be approved and passed by Parliament before the nomination for General Election candidates open in October. That is merely a week away.
This poses a critical question. Is today’s Parliamentary session merely a rubber stamp for whatever needs to be done to the Electoral Act? We know the H.R.P.P. still has the 2/3rd majority in terms of members of Parliament and they could technically ram through whatever it is that they wish. That could well happen.
We certainly hope they learn their lesson from what Tuala Ponifasio and Papali’i Panoa did. The idea that the Electoral Act, the law upon which the entire process for Samoa’s democratic Parliamentary election is based, was deemed “unconstitutional” and required urgent redrafting, was a big slap on the face of the Government.
This is why they should not rush through more hastily put together changes where they use Parliament as a mere rubber stamp at the expense of candidates and voters.
What they should insist on is to allow the process of a proper robust debate among Parliamentarians to ensure the Act is solid and beneficial to members of the public before they pass it.
Anything less, we now know, could be challenged in Court, like what Tuala and Papali’i did. Imagine that happening again with the General Election merely six months away?