Minister denies court case spurred electoral reform
The Minister for the Office of the Electoral Commission, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, has rejected claims amendments to the Electoral Act were prompted by a court case.
The legal challenge to the Electoral Act 2019 on the basis that it was discriminatory was launched by Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papalii Panoa Tavita.
In early September, the Government agreed to redraft parts of the Electoral Act after the legal challenge was withdrawn in the Supreme Court on Monday.
Member of Parliament Faumuina Wayne Fong commended the Government for making the required changes, apparently as a result of the court case targeting the legislation.
“And it is good the amendments have come before Parliament for more deliberation to make the law more strong and whole,” Faumuina said.
But Fa’aolesa objected and dismissed the claims the Act, which were passed on Tuesday during a special Parliamentary sitting, were in fact a result of the court case.
“I want to correct that, these amendments were not from any court case we have been prepared for a long time before,” Fa’aolesa said.
“In April there we approved changes to reflect the new dates for the nomination and from there; we started working on these amendments.
“And if you had listened to my speech earlier, you would know there is no connection between these amendments and the court case,.”
But Faumuina would not be moved from his position.
“If there was no court case, these amendments would not be subject before Parliament and therefore, be patient and allow me to make some comments on the changes. And if these changes were in the pipeline then why wait until now when it is close to the election,” said Faumuina.
“[Tuesday’s] session is a result of the court case.”
The lawsuit claimed the Act in its previous form favoured Members of Parliament over anyone intending to run, and gave unnecessary powers to the Electoral Commissioner.
Additional issues over the minutiae of candidate eligibility, the monotaga (contribution) requirement and matai titles were also raised throughout the hearing.
The matter concluded with Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren saying the two parties had come to an agreement.
“The applicants will withdraw their applications subject to the following: that the respondent will carry out the amendments to the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act 2019 in accordance with the memorandum which is attached to this order,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi intervened and dismissed the M.P.’s claim and noted that other H.R.P.P. members also weighed into the deliberation of these bills.
“It appears the [M.P.] is trying to make it seem like [we] are trying to stop him from raising his concerns, when that is not the case. Bring it on,” said the Prime Minister.
Parliament passed into law amendments to the Electoral Act 2019 on Tuesday.
The changes include the removal of the Electoral Commissioner’s power to disqualify a candidate from standing for office. The provision reverted to the original Act where the responsibility was solely the Supreme Court’s.
Fa’aolesa said the bill aims to provide for the mandate of the Electoral Commission established under the previous Act.
“Such a mandate is intended to be achieved through amendments to the principal Act: that provide for more fair application of the law to a person intending to contest for elections from constituencies affected in the re-defining of the electoral boundaries,” he said.
The Minister said the bill provides for fair application of the law for candidates. The changes target those affected by travel restrictions, addressing gaps in the law and ensuring the integrity of the monotaga provision for candidates whose electorates had been redrawn.
Candidates had been required to fulfil monotaga requirements within a village for three consecutive years, during which time they must have resided in the country.