Parliament passes major constitutional amendments to address electoral anomalies

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi speaking in parliament

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2019: Parliament has endorsed three major Constitutional amendments relating to the Electoral Act 2019 which will be effective in the 2021 general election.

The amendments include amendment to the Electoral Act 2019, Electoral Commission Act 2019, and the amendment to the Electoral Constituency Act 2019.

When the Bill was debated in Parliament last year, several Members from Savai’i including the Deputy Speaker, Nafo’i Tala’imanu Keti, spoke out against the amendment. But when it came to the vote yesterday, only two MPs from Savai’i opposed it.

MP for Gagaifomauga No.3. La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polata’ivao and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi went head to head on the division of constituencies boundaries.

La’auli voiced his disappointment towards the Minister for Electoral Commission, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, Nafo’i Talaimanu Keti for ignoring the advice laid before the committee during consultation.

“We have been meeting for almost 4 months and yet you have no regard towards our feelings and our petition towards the issue.”

He said it was not easy for the people of Savai’i to accept the fact that one Parliamentary seat has been removed from Savai’i while four seats have been added to Upolu.

Tuilaepa quickly took the floor and intervened La’auli’s remark and explained the reason behind the amendment.

He said the purpose of the amendment was specifically for the elections only, and will not affect the traditional boundaries based on Samoan cultural practices and the honorific status of districts.

The Prime Minister explained that it was the final phase of electoral reforms over twenty eight years to ensure one-man-one vote and a balanced representation in parliament based on the population per electoral constituency.

The constitutional amendment required a two thirds majority and the amendment was supported by 44 MP’s to 2 against.

The two who remained against the changes were La’aulialemalietoa of Gagaifomauga No.3. and Salega West MP, Olo Fiti Vaai.

Salega West MP, Olo Fiti Vaai and La’aulialealietoa of Gagaifomauga No.3. were the only MPs who voted against the amendments .

 

Last week, MP for Alataua West Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau presented before Parliament a petition signed by the Alii ma Faipule of Saleaula village in Savaii declaring their opposition to the changes.

The PM said he met with the Saleaula village last Saturday and had them that their seat in Parliament remains under the new changes.

Government rejects Committees’ recommendation

A last minute change by the Parliamentary Committee on the composition of what was the Saleaula seat was rejected by the Government on Monday night.

The Committee removed the village of Safa’i from Gagemauga No.2 and place it together with other sub villages of Saleaula, Patamea, Samalaeulu and Mauga under Gagaemauga No.1.

The new listing was rejected by the Minister of Elections, Fa’aolesa Ainu’u and Tuilaepa again explained why.

He said Safa’i should remain under Gagaemauga No. 2. because it will tip the balance to the election numbers in these constituencies.

The change was also opposed by MP for Gagaemauga No.2. Faaso’otauloa Pati Taulapapa, but still voted for the amendment in the end.

With all the oppositions to the changes, Tuilaepa is confident that the change is a long term solution to a problem that had been in discussion since the country became independent.

According to the Commissioner of the Office Electoral Commission, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, the Attorney General’s Office is now working on updating the consolidated version of the electoral constituencies taking into account the changes as approved by parliament.