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Electoral Act challenged again

A legal challenge to the Electoral Act has been mounted again, after allegations were made that amendments the Government had agreed to make to the law were not passed as promised. 

Lawyer for the applicants Mauga Precious Chang told the Supreme Court on Friday that despite everyone agreeing to the amendments laid out in a consent order, Parliament passed different ones on Tuesday. 

Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilana Tuala-Warren has scheduled the matter to be heard again on Monday, after she inspects the consent orders and the newly passed Electoral Act amendments.

She will determine the extent to which the amendments deviate from the consent orders and whether the case ought to continue. At issue is whether the Attorney General’s office is found to have held true to the undertakings it made to change the law.

Tafaoimalo said if she agrees that the consent orders were not obeyed, the applicants can amend their plea to focus on the new Electoral Act and continue where the case left off, with hearing submissions from clients and witnesses. 

The challenge comes just days after the Government passed more than a dozen amended clauses into the Act on Tuesday.

Among the changes passed by Parliament include the removal of the Electoral Commissioner’s power to disqualify a candidate from standing; a power that has been returned to the Supreme Court.

But its passage was not met without controversy by members of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.R.P.).

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fonotoe Lauofo Pierre said an attempt to remove discrimination from the law may have entrenched it by lowering residency requirements for overseas Samoans in light of coronavirus travel restrictions. 

“This appears to be favoritism to those stuck overseas and not heeding the three year residence requirement, and what about those that abided by the three year law?,” Fonotoe said.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Associate Minister for the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, critcised as "contradictory" an amendment to the Act designed to deal with geographical issues in the law. 

The Associate Minister raised eyebrows when he questioned an amendment which would allow a matai who renders service to Leauva’a to contest the Gagaemauga No. 1 seat in Savai’i.

“This is not appropriate for a matai from another village running from a village in Savai’i where he does not render his monotaga (service)," Peseta said. 

Despite a special hearing of Parliament being called on the day the changes were passed, the Minister for the Office of the Electoral Commission, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, rejected claims the amendments were made as a response to the legal challenge. 

"These amendments were not from any court case we have been prepared for a long time before,” Fa’aolesa said, who said refinements to the Act had begun being drafted since April. 

But Member of Parliament Faumuina Wayne Fong insisted that Parliament was convened specifically to deal with the issues raised in the court case. 

"If there was no court case, these amendments would not be subject before Parliament," he said

More to come

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