Applications before the Supreme Court of Samoa contending that the Electoral Act 2019 was unconstitutional and discriminatory have been withdrawn following legislative amendments passed during a special sitting of Parliament last week.
Applicants Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papalii Panoa Tavita Moala had both contested parliamentary seats in the 2016 general elections, however, following 2019 amendments to Samoa’s Electoral Act, both matai stood to be disqualified from competing in 2021.
Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale responded to the applications on behalf of the Electoral Commissioner while Fuimaono Sarona Rimoni-Ponifasio and Mauga Precious Chang represented Tuala and Papalii respectively.
Outside Court, Counsel for Tuala Ponifasio said the recent amendments have satisfied all the issues they had raised in Court on behalf of their clients, and they now intend to file applications for costs.
“Our clients’ rights to run the general elections have been restored, so yes, our applications have been withdrawn, but we do have 21 days to file our motions as to cost,” said Fuimaono Sarona Rimoni-Ponifasio.
Fuimaono said one of the issues they had raised was the authority given to the Electoral Commissioner to declare a candidate disqualified from running.
“The authority that the Commissioner had under Section 18 to disqualify a person from being a candidate in the elections has been removed, which is one of the things that we asked for”, said Fuimaono.
“Secondly, the exemption of the monotaga requirement that was only given to sitting Members of Parliament who were affected by the changes to the Electoral Constituencies has been removed..
“Thirdly, other than the Members of Parliament representing Urban Constituencies, all other people who want to compete in the elections are now equally treated under the exemption of Section 156;
“So now everyone is equal.. not just the Urban seats, but everyone affected by newly formed Electoral Constituencies are now equally treated in terms of the amendments to S156, which is one of the matters that we had raised as being discriminatory,” said Fuiomaono.
Mauga Precious Chang also confirmed that her client and former long-serving Government CEO Papalii Panoa Tavita Moala is now also eligible to run following amendments to S156 of the Electoral Act.
Addressing the media outside Court today, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio said the Electoral Act amendments should have been more carefully considered and consulted for its impacts.
“Proper process should have been followed such as extensive consultations, and testing of the laws against set policies..
“The most disappointing thing about these amendments is that they should never have been applied to the 2021 elections;
“If it wasn’t rushed, and everyone had been given enough time to adjust for the next general elections in 2026; we would not be here in Court today,” said Tuala, who added that there were several other provisions of the Act that needed to be addressed.
Former Leader of the Tautua Party, Afemata Palusalue Faapo II who had been one of 10 matai to give evidence during the hearing, spoke about his concern with another amendment passed in Parliament last week that has removed a Member’s ability to leave a Political Party and become and Independent MP during.
“Ua pei le tatou atunuu o se atunuu faakominisi, ua leai se saolotoga..
“O le mea lea e faanoanoa ai, ona o le faatotope o nei tulafono, ae ua aafia ai le aia tatau, ma le saolotoga o Faipule..”
Papalii Panoa said they were elated to have won this case against the Government and the only reason for withdrawing their application before the Court, is because the issues they had raised, have all been satisfied.
“Ua faamalieina i matou; ua faiaina le Malo, ua malo le matou finau. Ua ala ona ave i tua le matou talosaga, ua faamalieina i matou”.