Tuesday 20 July 2021, Mulinuu Apia Samoa. Electoral petitions where agreements were being negotiated between parties looking to withdraw, are having to be rescheduled for hearings before the Supreme Court of Samoa.
For such petitions, intentions to withdraw had been made known to the Court, with elected MPs announcing their intention to resign, and return their respective constituencies to the polls by way of a by-election, where the resigned MP would then again run for office.
Such arrangements are being rejected by the Supreme Court, reserving the right to report to the Speaker that these are likely corrupt arrangements, if the parties are resigning to bypass the petition process and return to by-elections.
In response to questions from Samoa Global News, lawyer Muriel Lui said the Supreme Court will allow withdrawals, however, they would consider it a corrupt agreement if the parties are resigning just to avoid charges of bribery and treating which have been filed against them before the Court.
“So if you resign and you don’t intend to run in the by-election, then that is ok; but if you resign to avoid the allegations, then those are considered corrupt agreements,” said Ms Lui.
Last week the former Minister of Education and former CEO of NPF jointly announced to a packed courtroom of constituency matai that they intended to withdraw their petitions, with Loau Keneti Sio intending to resign and re-run the election. Papalii Panoa had also announced that he did not intend to run in the by-election.
This morning however, that agreement has fallen through. According to Papalii, the Court made it clear that if the case should be withdrawn and Loau resigns, then neither of them can run in a subsequent by-election.
The second case for which an agreement was reported to have been reached, but is now also proceeding to a hearing after failed negotiations, is that of Sagaga No4. The winning HRPP candidate and a lawyer by profession, Tuisa Tasi Patea, had announced his intention to resign as an MP, and return for a re-match with his petitioner at a by-election.
This morning in Court, however, it was confirmed that the case between Tuisa and his petitioner, Tagaloatele Poloa of FAST, would now proceed to hearing.
Along the corridors of the courthouse constituency matai from the villages within Sagaga 4 congregated to debate and discuss a solution.
The cultural exchange of words saw high chiefs making the usual pleads for peace within the district, and calling for the matter to be settled out of Court.
Tuisa had been elected as MP for Sagaga 4 after securing a margin of 272 votes ahead of Tagaloatele Poloa.
A third electoral petition that could be affected by the Supreme Court stance against such arrangements, is that for Safata 1, where Afemata Palusalua Faapo II and elected MP Leaana Roni Posini jointly announced a withdrawal which was again, based on Leaana resigning as an MP, with the intention of returning to run for office in the by-election.
Of the 28 electoral petitions filed before the Supreme Court, 14 were against elected FAST MPs and 14 were against elected HRPP MPs.
Out of the 14 cases against FAST elected MPs, 9 avoided the legal process and settled out of court with their petitioners withdrawing. For all 9 cases, the withdrawals were not conditional upon the elected MP resigning and as such all 9 FAST MPs are confirmed representatives for their respective constituencies. Four cases were heard in Court with charges dismissed, while a single case – a petition against Tuala Tevaga Ponifasio – is expected to proceed.
Of the 14 cases against HRPP elected MPs, 5 have avoided court hearings because their petitioners agreed to withdraw without the conditions for them to resign.
Two HRPP seats have been declared void by the Supreme Court – both brought by an HRPP candidate against another, while a decision for Fonotoe’s case is expected to be delivered this week. There has been one HRPP resignation, Aeau Leota Tima Leavai who was asked to resign and not run the by-election. The remaining 5 cases against elected HRPP MPs are now pending hearing dates before the Court.