Lawyer skeptical of election petition outcome

A senior lawyer with links to the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) says she is skeptical of election petition decisions coming out of the Supreme Court which she claims favours their rivals.

Maiava Visekota Peteru made the comments this week in a programme she hosts with the H.R.P.P. Secretary and Member-elect for Faleata No. 3 Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi. 

According to Maiava, almost all the decisions handed down by the Court relating to post-election challenges ruled in favour of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) candidates, if not she claimed it was an “equal” win to the parties. 

She said this was part of the reasons that compelled the party to lodge a complaint against the Chief Justice that is now before the Judiciary Service Commission. 

“People are saying that they are not lawyers but are shocked with what is happening,” she said on the H.R.P.P. Facebook page programme this week. 

The senior lawyer – who was recently reinstated after having her license suspended by the Samoa Law Society – was particularly critical of court decisions to dismiss allegations of bribery and treating that stemmed from the F.A.S.T. party’s roadshow to promote their campaign. 

“What I mean it is common sense from the general perspective in terms of forbidding money given during the election period and it seems that the court is moving away from what has long been established and voters were used to – it now appears to be allowed in the election period.”

Maiava also recently criticised the judiciary and its orders to convene the Parliament describing the ruling “with a tail” as a threat to those that don’t comply with contempt of court. 

In May, the Samoa Law Society had sent out a memorandum to its members reminding them of their fundamental duties as officers of the court. 

The society acknowledged that the legal practitioners are entitled to their own personal views, but are of the view that decisions by the Court should be questioned via the appeal process. 

“However, as officers of the Court, we must be wary of the impact our words and actions as lawyers have on the public’s perception of the institution as well as its ability to administer justice,” reads the statement from Samoa Law Society to its members in May. 

“The legal intricacies and details of proceedings in which we represent clients are best ventilated in the Courts for them to be effective. 

“Lawyers posting about them on social media to attract the ire of hundreds of misinformed, but eager, observers impacts on the reputation of our whole profession.” 

In relations to petitions against the H.R.P.P. Members-elect, the Supreme Court had voided two seats from the party’s members and were the outcome of election petitions filed by the party’s defeated candidates. 

Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli, who won the Sagaga No. 2 constituency, was petitioned by former H.R.P.P. Associate Minister who contested as an independent candidate, Maualaivao Pat Ah Him. 

While the voided election for Aleipata-Itupa-i-Luga M.P., Fiugalu Eteuati Eteuati was a result of a challenge from another H.R.P.P. member, Tafua Maluelue Tafua. 

 The third decision in the battle from Anoama’a No. 2 seat had allegations against the party’s deputy leader, Lauofo Fonotoe Lauofo quashed while the petitioner and F.A.S.T. member was found guilty of of illegal practice.  

Five other seats that were won by the H.R.P.P. are vacant due to resignation (one other is yet to be formalised) by the Members-elect as part of agreements to drop the election petitions filed against them. This automatically triggers by-elections. 

In addition, four other electoral petitions filed against H.R.P.P. (including two filed by H.R.P.P. members) were withdrawn allowing the representatives to retain their seats. 

Currently there are four electoral challenges against H.R.P.P. that are pending in Court for hearing. 

As for the F.A.S.T. party, eight petitions (including two pending official confirmation) against its elected M.Ps have been withdrawn – none of it had any conditions to resign from office. 

Five other cases against H.R.P.P. winners that were determined by the Supreme Court were dismissed giving way to the winners to be in parliament for five years. 

 Two of the dismissed petitions backfired at the petitioners that were found guilty of corrupt practices forbidding them from running for office in the next 15 years. 

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