Samoa court test case ruling on fresh elections due Monday

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Ex-Attorney-General Taulapapa Brenda Heather Latu
Former Attorney-General Taulapapa Brenda Heather Latu (right) leads the FAST Party legal challenge against holding a second election. Image: Tipi Autagavaia/RMZ Pacific

RNZ News

Samoa is to hear on Monday whether fresh elections will go ahead next week.

The Supreme Court heard challenges yesterday to the new ballot called last week by the Head of State, Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II.

Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese said the hearing would test the extent of the powers held by the Head of State – O le Ao o le Malo.

Tuimaleali’ifano called the vote on the advice of the caretaker Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, purportedly to break the 26-seat each deadlock with the newcomer Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party.

FAST challenged the new ballot, contending Tuila’epa’s advice meant the Head of State decreed a course of action which deviated from a process set out in the constitution.

FAST’s co-counsel at the court hearing, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, said it was “a substantive hearing of the constitutional challenge… and a decision will be given at 3 o’clock on Monday afternoon”.

Also on Monday, the court will hear a separate FAST party challenge to the validity of the electoral office’s awarding of an extra women’s seat to the HRPP, which created the current deadlock.

Additional seat at issue
If both decisions find in favour of FAST, according to Taulapapa, a former Attorney-General, the additional seat would then be removed.

“Which means they [FAST] can go to the clerk and the Head of State and ask the Parliament to be convened, and they have the majority to form government,” she said.

However, if the court finds against FAST in the electoral matter but in their favour in the case of the additional women’s seat “then we’re actually back at 26-25 for FAST” noted Taulapapa.

“And I guess we’ll have to have another election next Friday.”

However the snap-election in that situation would become the subject of a further challenge, she added.

“Because it does not meet any of the normal requirements for a general election.”

Taulapapa contended that a snap-election being called when legal challenges had not yet been heard and exhausted “disallowed the votes of 89,000 Samoan people”.

Unlawful, say submissions
“In the submissions that we made before the court today that was unlawful,” she said.

“And it effectively pre-empted the ability of parliament and all those elected representatives to sit down and find out if there was someone that had the majority who could form government and become our new prime minister.”

Samoa’s constitution prescribes a process to be followed after election results are called and Taulapapa said this had been forsaken.

“The forming of government is a function of the elected representatives. It’s not a function of a Head of State and it’s not a function of an un-elected official.”

Meanwhile, the caretaker HRPP government has made Thursday and Friday public holidays in anticipation of the new ballot. Pre-polling is set to begin on Wednesday.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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