Samoa’s parliament in session
APIA, SAMOA – WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2018: A further amendment to the Constitution will increase the number of Members of Samoa’s Parliament to 51 from the current 49.
Called the Electoral Act 2018, the Act will be accompanied by the Electoral Constituency Bill and the Electoral Commission Bill 2018 “as a complete overhaul of the electoral process and to stamp out corruption and illegal practices during general elections,” according to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi.
Before Parliament was postponed until March, Tuilaepa tabled a constitutional amendment Tuesday this week that allowed the new constitutional amendment to add two more seats in Parliament. The amendment was pushed through by the Speaker to its second reading and is expected to be passed by Parliament that has more than two thirds of government support.
Early feedback from MPs reveal that the two additional seats will be for Upolu only.
The old argument of keeping the parliamentary seats in line with traditional and cultural boundaries that drew intense debate when the new electoral boundaries were drawn for the Safata constituency for the 2016 elections, will be ignored in the new amendment.
With 51 seats, the ratio of MPs per voter representation in Samoa’s parliament will be very low compared to neighbouring New Zealand that the Prime Minister drew comparison.
However, Tuilaepa explained that short term patches have been made to the electoral law from time to time since Samoa adopted western styled elections in its democracy since 1962. Up until 1982, only matais were allowed to vote and a subsequent referendum in the id 1980s overwhelmingly supported universal suffrage.
“It’s time for a complete overhaul and it will be called the Electoral Act 2018,” said Tuilaepa.
He explained that the Act seeks to find balance between the country’s population spread and the parliamentary representation.
Since the 2016 general elections, 5 women MPs are guaranteed in every general election. There are also seats where electors are split between Upolu and Savaii due to historical events and the new Act looks to streamline these. This includes voter transfer, voter IDs, electoral boundaries, names of constituencies and corrupt and illegal practices.
“It is crucial to have a robust electoral system and for everyone to cast their votes freely in order to get the best candidates to run the government.
“Understanding how the electoral system works and the importance of voting are fundamental in a democracy.
“If the process of elections is corrupt, then we elect those in parliament who make decisions that will have an impact to our country’s development.”
The Prime Minister noted the many changes to ensure the democratic process in Samoa’s parliament since HRPP came to lead the government in 1982.