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Candidate declaration requirement poses challenge

A new electoral requirement, for nominations in the General Election to be declared within six months prior to the event, will pose challenges for sitting Members of Parliament who intend to cross the floor.

Under the newly proposed changes in the Electoral Act 2020, a declaration within the six months requirement from an M.P. that has strings attached to a political party to change allegiance will cost them their seat. 

Similarly, an Independent M.P. who would declare loyalty to a political party in the six months criteria for the 2021 General Election will also face the same fate. 

This was confirmed by the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

“It means your seat will be vacated,” he said in relation to M.Ps who would declare a change of allegiance to cross the floor or for Independent M.Ps wanting to join a party. 

The Commissioner added that in that scenario where the seat of an M.P is vacated, a by-election will not be triggered. 

“Based on your scenario given above, there won’t be a by-election as it’s within six months from the next General Election,” he said. 

Faimalo said there is more than one logic behind the rationale of changing the period for nominations to be declared. 

“Perhaps the most important one is the removal of the uncertainty amongst the voters as to who exactly should they vote for in the next General Elections [G.E],” he said. 

“The fact that candidates will be confirmed with just over five months to go before the General Elections, gives the opportunity to the voters to inform themselves as to who should they vote for in the GE, based on how effective a candidate’s campaign is. 

“Note that the campaign period now starts straight after the nomination period.”

The new change for declaration of nomination was heavily criticised in April’s parliament session by Senior Members of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao and Independent M.P. Olo Fiti Vaai. 

M.P. for Salega East, Olo told parliament that the disadvantage of the new change is that a sitting M.P. will have his seat void when its not the members fault to declare nomination prior to parliament dissolution but a requirement under the law. 

Olo questioned the Electoral Committee on their opinion on the rights of a Member who wants to join another party. 

“A Members right is affected by this [new change] yet its your party that stands for the protection of the rights of people including Members of Parliament,” he added. 

M.P. for Gagaifomauga no3, La’auli also raised his disagreement with the changes. 

La’auli who also Chaired the Electoral Committee in previous terms said the changes undermined village decisions especially in selecting nomination for constituency. 

The M.P. said the changes would mean that nominations are now declared prior to the dissolution of parliament. 

“The blessings and endorsement from our constituency for us sitting in parliament is not finished, and parliament has not dissolved,” he said. 

“You can’t just walk around in town and say to yourself that you will be running in the election. 

“No, it is customary that once parliament dissolves we go back to our constituency to seek the blessings and endorsement of the constituency before registration of our nomination for candidacy.

“But this change is like we are being butchered alive…”

The Speaker of the House, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi warned the M.P. against using the words butcher saying it should be replaced with being distributed alive (suia mai le pega ola ile fa’asoa ola) 

La’auli reiterated that speeches are often made to reflect Samoan customs but the proposed change undermines decisions from constituency who would meet after parliament dissolves regarding candidate nominations. 

Another amendment that La’auli touched on is the 200 percent increase in the cost of registration of nomination. 

The M.P. urged the urged the Electoral Parliament Committee not to make changes that will build walls to protect those in parliament and will pose disadvantage for the general public who want to contest. 

In response to queries from the M.Ps, Chairperson for Electoral Committee, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti dispelled queries on the process executed by the Committee in formation of the amendments. 

The M.P. for Gagaemauga no3 reassured the amendments were well researched based on opinions raised by the public before the Committee. 

Nafoitoa said the six months requirement for candidacy to be declared is sufficient time and it is important for voters to choose who to vote for. 

In terms of the three months to dissolve parliament and the 6 months requirement for nomination, the Electoral Commissioner said nothing in the Electoral Amendment Act 2020 affects the dissolution of parliament under the Constitution. 

“The Constitution is clear that the General Elections must take place within three months from the day of dissolution of Parliament,” he said. 

If you check the General Election 2021 Calendar of Events on our social media and website, you will note that Parliament is scheduled to dissolve on the 19th of January 2021. 

“The General Elections is scheduled for 9th of April 2021. So the 2021 General Elections will take place well within the three month Constitutional requirement from the dissolution of Parliament.” 

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