Savaii Lawyer, Businessman and President of Samoa RSA is at the Centre of it All

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Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio is also President of Samoa's RSA. Photo: Michael Moller.

Preliminary results of general elections has Samoa’s 51 Parliamentary seats at an even 25-25 tie between the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) and Faatuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST); with a lone Independent member at the center of it all.

Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio secured Savaii’s Gagaemauga No.1 seat following the first unofficial count, and has now become the most sought after man in Samoa.

He says, however, that he will refrain from further public comments until the official declaration of confirmed election results, expected by the end of this week.

“Let us all pray for a good outcome for Samoa,” says Tuala.

The lawyer, businessman and President of the Samoa Returned Services Association (RSA) finds himself holding the balance of power for Samoa’s general elections, after three previous attempts to enter Parliament in 2006, 2011 and 2016.

A Man of Many Battles

Over the years, Tuala has taken many battles to Court, fighting for what he believed to be injustices in the system.

Following the 2011 he sued Samoa’s TV3 for criminal libel over a news story broadcast before the election. Following the 2016 election, he was banished from his village for filing an electoral petition against the successful candidate, Sala Fata Pinati. In 2019, he won a battle to quash on appeal a 2017 conviction of bribery and treating against him brought by a private prosecution launched by ‘voters’ in the electorate.

Afemata Palusalue Faapo II, Papalii Tavita Moala, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio.

And in the lead up to this general election in September 2020, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and co-applicant Papalii Panoa Tavita Moala launched a legal challenge to amendments made to Samoa’s Electoral Act which would have advantaged incumbents and disadvantaged challengers. As a result, the Supreme Court ordered amendments be made to the Electoral Act.

At the time, Tuala’s lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio outlined the basis of the amendments requested.

“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.

Tuala had told Samoa Global News at the time that Electoral Act amendments should have been more carefully considered and more widely consulted for its impacts.

“Proper process should have been followed such as extensive consultations, and testing of the laws against existing policies.. These amendments should also have never been applied to the 2021 elections.”

Tuala had also commented at the time, that there were several other provisions of the Act, he felt needed to be addressed.

The process leading up the final declaration of the results for Samoa’s 2021 general elections continues this morning at the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (OEC) headquarters at Tuanaimato.

HRPP Dominance Ends

Established in May 1979 as an opposition party, HRPP has governed the country since first winning power in 1982, except for a brief period in 1986 and 1987 when internal differences forced it into coalition. Two foundng members, Vaai Kolone and Tofilau Eti Alesana both became Prime Ministers of Samoa and Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi has led the party since 1998.

Following an aggressive media campaign and roadshows across the nation, the momentum gained by FAST in the past 10 months was undeniably established through the polls, indicating a nation split down the middle.

As has been the case in previous Samoa elections, a flood of court cases for bribing voters is expected to follow. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has already indicated legal action is being considered against FAST for activities during roadshows. At the same time, several FAST candidates have also indicated intentions to lodge complaints of bribery against members of HRPP.