12 May 2021

Samoa election: only one party in campaign mode as court hears challenges

3:54 pm on 12 May 2021

With less than two weeks until fresh elections in Samoa, only one of the major parties is in campaign mode.

Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, called the second election in as many months last Tuesday on the advice of the caretaker prime minister, purportedly to break a month-long deadlock between the two major parties.

The Samoa Electoral Commission show votes being tallied during the general election in the capital city of Apia

An election worker tallies results from Samoa's first 2021 election in April, which resulted in a 26 seat deadlock between the two main parties. Photo: AFP or licensors

But newcomer Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi, or FAST party, contends that a fresh election is a breach of the constitution which has ascribed protocols in the event of a deadlock.

Some of them, including hearing electoral petitions and counter petitions, will be heard by the Supreme Court this week.

But the caretaker Human Rights Protection Party prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has welcomed the second election. Already, HRPP material is plastered around the country, and the party's campaign machinery is - again - in full swing.

The former main opposition party, Tautua Samoa, which was wiped out of parliament in April's election, has also welcomed the opportunity for a second chance at re-entering parliament.

The HRPP's member for Faleata West, Leala'ilepule Rimoni Aiafi, said the new ballot is about getting the country back up and running.

"It's more, not only a legality call, but also a political call by the head of state to maintain peace and stability," he said.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, left, and Fiame Naomi Mata'afa

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Tipi Autagavaia

"And also the current budget expires next month, in June, and we must get a new government in to get the new budget rolling, otherwise there will be a lot of chaos."

But FAST party leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa said legal chaos has been created by a breach of the constitution.

She said the advice given to the head of state, to call a fresh election, was that which had best suited the caretaker prime minister who gave it to him.

"That in itself is a conflict, and that is where the other officials, the attorney general [and] the commissioner for elections, it is so important that those people hold their position with the integrity of the office," she said.

Fiame accused those senior public servants of lacking the neutrality essential to their roles.

"On top of the legal issue of whether the call for new elections is legal, you can also see the manipulation by the caretaker government and the influence that it has over the offices of government and the decisions that they are making."

The current 26 seat deadlock was brought about by an unelected extra women's seat being appointed on the instruction of the Electoral Commissioner. It went to the HRPP.

A challenge to that appointment is being heard next Monday - four days before the scheduled second election.

And electoral petitions, which the constitution says would help overcome an electoral deadlock, will continue to be heard in court on Wednesday.

Also, FAST's challenge to the legality of the Head of State calling a fresh ballot will be heard on Thursday in the Supreme Court.

A Samoan New Zealand academic specialising in Pacific jurisprudence, Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni, said there is a tension between the traditional Fa'a Samoa head of state figure looking after his people and the one who upholds the constitution.

"You've got the coming together of two paradigms for leadership and those two paradigms don't necessarily speak to each other," Tamasailau said.

Protestors outside Samoa court

The contested result of April's election has seen protests outside the Supreme Court, where three challenges are being heard. Photo: Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

"So what you're asking ... is the head of state empowered by the instruments that have given him the rights to the position he holds?"

She said his right to call a snap election would be subject to careful legal arguments and interpretations of constitutional provisions.

Meanwhile, the HRPP's uncontested candidate for Faleata West, Leala'ilepule, said the party's record of strong and stable government with continued economic growth speaks for itself.

"We also have a lot of developments in the pipeline moving forward. So I think the key thing is that Samoa over the years has been able to provide safety, security and stability for its people."

Before April's election, when they left in protest against three controversial bills bulldozed through parliament last year, key members of the new FAST party including Fiame had helped provide much of those gains for the people of Samoa.

The outcome of this week's court action will likely determine whether or not Samoa will go to the polls again on the 21 May.

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