Samoan court voids appeal over additional women’s seat

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Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tuuau
Sixth woman's candidate Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tuuau ... loses her appeal. Image: Daniela Maoate-Cox/RNZ

RNZ Pacific

A Court of Appeal decision today may pave the way for the FAST party to assume control of the Samoan government.

Samoa’s Court of Appeal has voided the legal challenge by a Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) women’s candidate, who said she was wrongly removed as an MP.

Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau had been appointed as the sixth woman’s MP by the Electoral Commissioner, but then had her appointment rescinded in a decision by the Supreme Court.

That decision gave the newcomer Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party the slimmest majority in the new Parliament, and this latest decision now confirms that.

But, as FAST party lawyer Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu explained, the court also ruled that six women MPs was the correct number under the Samoan system of reserving parliamentary seats for women.

“But, that the decision whether or not to add a woman to make up the six cannot be determined until after the electoral petitions and the byelections are complete,” she said.

“So that there is certainty as to the exact members that make up the Parliament.”

Attempts by FAST to assume power have been thwarted at several points by HRPP leader Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who had been prime minister since 1999.

What does this decision mean?
HRPP leader Tuila’epa welcomed the Court of Appeal’s decision in clarifying the interpretation of Article 44 of the Constitution, which allows for no less than 10 percent of the elected members of parliament to be women.

The decision clarified that 10 percent of the elected members should be calculated as six women, and not five, as the FAST Party argued.

But the Court of Appeal did not allow the Electoral Commissioner’s appeal, and said he acted unconstitutionally when he appointed the sixth woman member, Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau.

The Appeal Court panel of Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese and Justices Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren and Fepulea’i Ameperosa Roma said the sixth women’s seat could not  be declared until all election petitions, and any subsequent byelections, were completed.

Speaking on TV3 this afternoon, Tuila’epa confirmed that his party now had 25 seats.

The ruling indicated that if a woman should win a byelection then there would be no need to activate Article 44 of the Constitution.

Tuila’epa said he would again seek a meeting with the leadership of FAST to discuss the way forward, but he argued that his caretaker government would remain until all petitions and byelections had been completed.

Last week, the FAST party swore themselves in as the next government, installing leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as the Prime Minister.

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

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