Samoa First candidate disqualified
Samoa First Political Party (S.F.P.P.) candidate, Leoa Tauti Faaleolea, has had his candidacy for next April's general election overturned by the Supreme Court.
The Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) was ordered by the Supreme Court on Friday to remove Leoa’s name from the list of approved contenders for the Gagaemauga No. 1 constituency.
Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke handed down the decision on Friday and noted that Leoa would be disqualified from contesting the election.
“The first respondent (O.E.C.) is ordered to remove the name of the second respondent as a candidate of Gagaemauga No. 1,” he continued.
The disqualification followed another candidate for the seat, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, lodging an election petition questioning the eligibility of Leoa to meet the requirements candidates are obliged to fulfill.
Justice Leiataualesa said that the full reasons for the decision would be made available to the counsels in due course.
Tuala is contesting the seat as an independent candidate.
Tuala, a lawyer by profession, filed the petition against his elderly rival, claiming that he had failed to provide either a statutory declaration signed by the village mayor or the woman representative of the village.
Leoa was unrepresented in court.
Supreme Court Judges, Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai and Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke presided over the matter which was heard earlier in the week.
The court heard that the O.E.C. approved Leoa’s nomination after receiving a phone call rather than an endorsement signature on the statutory declaration form candidates are required to submit for their nominations.
Lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, acted on Tuala’s behalf, while Fuimaono Sefo Ainu'u and Gafatasi Patu represented the Office of the Electoral Commission.
The Court heard that Leoa’s candidacy was approved after a staff member of the Office of the Electoral Commission, Fetogi Vaai, called the Patamea village mayor, Talatasi Falefatu.
The mayor allegedly “confirmed” over the phone that Leoa is a registered matai of the village and that he is rendering monotaga.
The village mayor, Talatasi, was then called to the stand by Leoa.
Under cross-examination by Fuimaono, Talatasi said he initially refused to sign Leoa’s documents. He said that he refused because he thought the candidate was intending to run using his ‘Tauati’ chief title - which does not render the required monotaga (service) in the village of Patamea.
Talatasi said when two people from the O.E.C. called asking whether Leoa satisfied the residency and monotaga requirements for candidates he agreed to endorse the candidate’s nomination and sign a required statutory declaration.
But he also could not do so because he was in Savai’i at that time.
Prior to this, he has never been presented with the declaration form, Talatasi said.
The mayor also admitted in court that contrary to allegations made to the O.E.C., Tuala never told him not to sign his rival's nomination form.
Asked by Fuimaono if Tuala had ever said such a thing, Talatasi denied the allegation.
“Tuala did not tell me directly, but there is a Patamea chief who told me that that is what Tuala said,” he said.
Talatasi also claimed that Tuala had called him personally a while after the nomination period to “thank me for not signing” Leoa’s documents.
The same allegation was also raised in one of the witnesses’ affidavits, saying Tuala had advised the village mayor not to sign Leoa’s documents.
Tuala strongly denied the allegations, saying he has never personally spoken to Talatasi, except for a phone call on October 27, 2020, which was after the nomination period.
Tuala said he had called to ask Talatasi whether he signed Leoa’s documents or not, information he needed in preparation for his legal challenge.
The decision of the Supreme Court was announced on Friday, along with the decision of other 12 electoral petitions which were heard throughout the month of November.
Leoa’s disqualification brings down to five the number of Samoa First Political Party candidates contesting next year’s April general election.