Samoa’s Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) deputy leader Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo says no Government should be formed in Parliament until election-related legal issues have been sorted out of respect for the constitution.
Fonotoe argues that the only way Samoa can have a constitutionally-aligned Government is to respect a Court of Appeal decision last Wednesday confirming that Parliament should be expanded to include at least six women. But he claimed that can only be achieved once all the election petitions are decided on.
Some 28 petitions and counter-petitions have been lodged in the Supreme Court challenging election results. They are expected to take months to resolve and could result in by-elections that will change the composition of Parliament.
Answering questions raised during an online broadcast PMN Live episode Fonotoe offered what he said was his opinion on ways to resolve Samoa’s political standoff while saying he was not privy to the party’s broader negotiation strategy.
While the deputy leader of the HRPP.says he has been kept in the dark about the details of discussions been made between the leaders of the two major parties, he believes the “way forward” for Samoa is to wait for the election petitions to be resolved.
“I believe the meeting [between the caretaker Prime Minister and the Prime Minister-elect on Thursday] was just a way to discuss the way forward from now for Samoa,” Fonotoe said.
“Now we have a decision from the Court of Appeal on an issue that was disputed by both parties and also involving the Electoral Commissioner.
“I understand the negotiations are ongoing, and they’re [HRPP leader, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa are] meeting again sometime next week but I do not know of the details.
“But if we go back to the Court of Appeal’s decision that was handed down last week […] the decision was handed down, confirming that, or stating that the correct number of women representation in the house should be six since women representative in the house should constitute a minimum of ten per cent.
“But there was also a condition to the decision which I believe says that the sixth woman cannot be added until all the election petitions, all the 28 of them which are currently before the court are being decided on.”
Fonotoe believes that only after all the 28 election petitions are being decided upon, will Samoa be in a position to form a Government to rein over the country for a five-year term.
He called on the courts to speed up the process of determining the outcome of outstanding election petitions.
“I think that’s the catch to the decision,” he said.
“You know Article 44 under the Constitution cannot be activated so that this extra woman representative is sworn and brought into Parliament unless all the election petitions are done with.
“So I guess, one of the things that they’ll be looking at is, what can be done about the election petitions.
“Maybe speed up the election petition process, I don’t know exactly what they (the judiciary) have in mind.
“But the election petitions are scheduled to commence Monday this week. And there are 28 election petitions and 28 counter petitions.
“I guess the discussions will be around the decision and what can we do about the petitions.
“One obvious way is to let the court process take its course. So I guess we will have to go through all the elections.”
Fonotoe insisted that the leader of the HRPP, Tuilaepa, is still the caretaker Prime Minister and HRPP “is still [in] Government.”
“Right now, Tuilaepa is still the caretaker Prime Minister and the HRPP is still in Government until all these election issues are being sorted out.
“You know we still have to convene Parliament because, under the Constitution, it says parliament or the Legislative Assembly is constituted under Article 44 of the Constitution. And under Article 44 of the constitution, it stipulates that a minimum of ten per cent of women’s representation for Parliament.
“So the Parliament of Samoa requires six women, but now, we only have five. And the decision from the Court of Appeal says on Wednesday that a sixth woman member can only be brought in after all the election petitions. But that’s the catch there, an extra condition.”
Fonotoe agrees that Parliament should convene.
However, he says only a “constitutional Government” could be formed after the legal battles concluded.
“My view is, we cannot have parliament sworn in unless we have ten per cent women’s representations in Parliament,” he said.
“Right now, we do not. And the constitutions requires ten per cent minimum representation of women in parliament. So in my own personal view, it’s unconstitutional to convene parliament at this point in time, because we need to have six women and we can only have a sixth woman after all the election petitions.
“The decision was handed down on Wednesday, so we have to obey the court’s decision and follow the rule of law.
“In Samoa, we have a constitutional document and we have to obey and comply with the constitution. And the Constitution in Samoa is the supreme law of the land.
“So we do not want to part away from the constitution and we have to form a constitutional government.
“So moving forward, we have to satisfy the Constitution and the laws passed by Parliament.
“The caretaker Prime Minister and leader of HRPP respects the court of appeal for handing down such a decision that confirms what the Electoral Commissioner and the HRPP have been saying all along.
“So we would like to see six women in Parliament, unfortunately, we do not have it now, until all the election petitions are heard.”
With the appointment of an additional HRPP woman voided by the Supreme Court, the number of seats now stands at 26 FAST and 25 for HRPP.
However, Fonotoe still believes that HRPP had garnered the majority of votes.
“You got to look at the facts and some of the facts states that about 58 per cent of the voting population for Samoa, voted for HRPP,” he said.
“Only 38 per cent of the voting population voted for FAST.
“So there is much more support in Samoa for the HRPP party than the FAST party.”
When asked for his opinion on the claims that the results of April’s election had “split the country right down the middle,” Fonotoe said: “I don’t see it that way.
“About 60 per cent of the voting population voted for HRPP and those are the facts. So I don’t agree with the statement that the country is split down the middle,” he said.
“Most of the seats that FAST won are over in the big island of Savai’i. which is sparse in population. But the more populous island as you know is the main island of Upolu the where the majority of the population are living, and most of them voted for the HRPP.”
If after all the election petitions are decided by the courts and Samoa once again are tied in terms of the number of seats, Fonotoe believes the solution is to call for a fresh election.
“If that’s the case, then I guess most probably we’ll have to go back to the polls and take the issue back to the people to decide,” he said.
SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS