A Samoa Parliamentary Committee is seeking to make it illegal for an election-winning candidate to resign after an opponent filed a court petition questioning his or her victory.

The Standing Orders, Electoral, Petitions and Constitutional Offices Committee made the recommendation in its report after it reviewed the findings of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into electoral matters arising from the 2021 General Election.

The Committee’s recommendation was amongst several key matters that it raised in its report that was approved by the Legislative Assembly last Friday.

The Committee noted that based on the results of the 2021 General Election, several candidates won the election but immediately resigned from office after a petition questioning their victory was filed in the Supreme Court.

Due to this practice, the Committee has recommended amending the Electoral Act 2019, which would nullify any attempts by a winning candidate to abruptly resign from office.

The Committee has also recommended the imposing of the same five-year penalty outlined in section 139 of the Electoral Act 2019 – which relates to a candidate who has been legally convicted of corruption charges – against a candidate who won an election and soon after resigned from office.

There were a few Members of Parliament who expressed concerns about the proposed amendments, on the grounds that there are serious implications for those in the legal profession if the proposed changes went ahead.

Following the 2021 General Election, there were three by-elections that were triggered by “settlement in principle”, where the Members of Parliament-elect and their opponents agreed to return to by-elections as part of an agreement leading to the petitioners dropping their cases. At that time the affected territorial constituencies included Sagaga No. 4, Safata No. 2 and Falealupo.

A record 28 petitions were filed with the Supreme Court by unsuccessful candidates following the April 2021 General Election, confirming a close race between the country’s two dominant political parties.

Meanwhile, political representation for people with disabilities is an issue Salamatua Russel Young Yen feels strongly about amid the debate on the 10 percent quota for women’s representation.

Salamatua of Vaiusu believes a person with a disability should represent those in Samoa living with a disability and has called on the Samoa government to consider a quota for the representation of such marginalised groups.

While the proposed electoral reforms could take time, Salamatua said he has already got an eye on the 2026 general election and hopes to run as a candidate.

He said he is keen on taking on the responsibility of making sure that every law and policy passed will also include the rights of those with disabilities.

“I am a person with a disability and I am also a man so I can speak from these two perspectives,” said Salamatua. “I believe having someone who knows how we live and feel as one of our leaders will be just and fair.

“Inclusion is key and Samoa needs everyone to work together to achieve this. Samoa can adopt the American system ensuring that we are all catered for with equal rights. We will be able to provide facilities like ramps for people with disabilities to access many kinds of services and there is a visible need for it in Samoa.”

Speaking about the 10 pe cent quota to ensure minimum representation of women in the House, Salamatua said he supports the removal of the constitutional provision as everyone should be treated equally as they are all important.

“Everyone is important and I don’t think people should use that word when discussing the issue of women’s 10 per cent representation in parliament.

“I support the removal of the 10 per cent quota for women in parliament, not because I am against women, but because I believe everyone is just as important and not just women. If they get their 10 per cent, then every other person will feel that they should have a 10 per cent of their own representation.”

Studies and research have shown that there is a massive disparity in equal opportunity when it comes to people with disabilities, especially in education, employment and access to services. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.