Winners and losers in election petitions and inconsistencies in Electoral laws
This nation took another step closer to next year’s General Election last Friday when the Supreme Court ruled on legal challenges filed by candidates and aspiring politicians. The petitions, which have increasingly become part of Samoa‘s normal election democracy in the build up to vote day, recently, were lodged after the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) announced their official list of candidates last month when the nomination period was closed.
It’s a given that not everybody would have been happy with the O.E.C. and the high number of petitions lodged reflected that feeling. On 31 October 2020, twenty electoral petitions were confirmed, the highest we’ve seen before an actual election.
The Supreme Court then had 20 days to review, hear and make a decision. It would not have been an easy task and the Court’s decision to allocate all Supreme Court Judges to the hearings reflected just how important the matters were. A judiciary of course is a lot more than judges and even the Attorney General’s Office had to call in special reinforcement from all Government lawyers to get the job done.
In the process, five legal challenges were withdrawn for different reasons. Of the 15 petitions that remained, the Court dismissed four, ruling in favour of the Electoral Commissioner’s decision to reject their nominations.
Six nominations approved by the O.E.C. were disqualified and they have since been struck off the list. On the other hand, five other candidates whose candidacies were initially rejected by the O.E.C. were successful in challenging the decisions and got the nod of approval to run.
And just like the elections, there were winners and losers. Some people left Mulinu’u feeling a great sense of victory; others would have felt despondent and crushed for obvious reasons. Speaking of being crushed, it’s hard to look past the story of the man who has been trying to run against Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi. For the third time, Tu’ula Kiliri Tuitui, of Saleapaga's bid to compete in Lepa has been denied. This time, another Lepa candidate, Faletagoai Tausaga, of Aufaga, claimed that Tu’ula did not render his monotaga as required and the Court agreed.
There were others who would have shared the same feeling as Tu’ula. One high profile case was that of a former Member of Parliament, Lafaitele Patrick Leiataualesa, whose bid to return to Parliament has been stopped also due to his failure to provide monotaga, as the law required.
But there were some winners too. Perhaps the biggest winner of them all was the Associate Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, who became the second incumbent M.P. to secure his seat in next year’s Parliamentary sitting, after a rival’s candidacy was declared invalid.
It’s a feeling that Leala’s colleague and Cabinet Minister, Loau Keneti Sio, perhaps wishes he could share. When the O.E.C. released its list, Loau did not have an opponent but that changed on Friday when candidate, Papali’i Moala Tavita, was successful in his petition to run against Loau. Papali’i deservedly celebrated like he’d just won the world title.
One of the most followed cases was the bitter family feud between the Associate Minister of Public Enterprises, Tuifa’asisina Misa Lisati, and his younger brother, Aiolupotea Toni Leleisiuao. In a rare case in Samoa’s history where one brother has gone as far as suing his sibling to stop him from contesting the same seat, this feud is far from being resolved. The Supreme Court has now further validated Aiolupotea’s candidacy which means this dispute will continue until polling day and possibly after with more petitions to follow.
It’s amazing what prestige and power can do to some people but then this is the game of politics we are talking about. When it gets rough and dirty, it knows no boundaries and it doesn’t care about blood and family connections. Even village, church ties and whatever else becomes irrelevant.
The two most debated issues during the petitions were monotaga and the registration of matai titles. We do not at all question the decisions by the Court, they are the experts in law and the Judges make decisions based on evidence presented before them.
What we do want to say for the sake of going forward is that judging from the recent petitions, there appears to be a lot of grey areas when it comes to these issues. For instance, there is inconsistency in the satisfaction of the monotaga criteria as well as the registration of matai tiles.
While some candidates have been disqualified for not fulfilling these requirements, others appear to have gotten through by a mere technicality.
Now of course this is a country run by a Government that believes laws are living documents that should change and evolve with time. Fine. But if they appear inconsistent especially in how and to whom it is applied, do they really serve the purpose of equality, fairness and justice?
What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!
Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!