22 Apr 2016

Samoans call for vote buying allegations to be tested

From , 3:04 pm on 22 April 2016

There are calls in Samoa for the electoral court to disallow the withdrawal of petitions that allege corrupt electioneering by members of parliament.

Six such petitions were filed following this year's general election, but later withdrawn by the petitioners following suspected pressure from political parties and village chiefs.

Stricter electoral laws in Samoa have outlawed the practice of treating in which gifts like food, money and fine mats were bestowed on voters by candidates.

But our correspondent, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, says the withdrawal of the petitions leaves allegations of treating untested.

AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: We are only talking about six cases that were filed in the electoral court. There are other cases against the Minister of Police and a member of parliament from the ruling party pending in the district court, also on charges of bribery and treating. But the six cases filed in the electoral court, those are the ones that have been withdrawn, never being heard in a substantive hearing.

BEN ROBINSON: We did hear comments from the lawyer, Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, who thought that family pressure may have been brought to bare on people who filed those petitions to withdraw them. Do you think that was the case?

ATA: That was the case of most of these with the exception of the last one. There was a lot of pressure from Matais (village chiefs and orators) to try and bring the matter back from court and settle the matter outside in our cultural way of dealing with things like this. I spoke to the former opposition leader of parliament. His case was also withdrawn and he said he respects the pressure from the matais of his village and the constituency, begging him to please bring the case back and settle outside and let this matai take the seat of the constituency for the next five years.The other thing is, out of these six petitions there was only one filed by an opposition member against an MP of the ruling party. The other five petitions were [filed by] candidates of the ruling party against MPs of the ruling party. There was a lot of speculation that people in the party were involved, trying to negotiate with the petitioner to bring their cases out of court and settle outside.

BR: But if they withdrew these petitions under pressure, what may have happened if they went to court? They may have been upheld, no?

ATA: That's the biggest question now, you are absolutely right. For you and me, we are asking the question, so what about the allegations of bribery and treating? If they committed these alleged offences before and during the time of the general election, how are we going to put a stop on bribery and treating and corruption in the election process?

BR: Looking back at the two previous elections, in 2006 I count that there were 10 election petitions filed and three by-elections that resulted. In 2011, a further 10 petitions were filed resulting in four by-elections. During that time stricter electoral laws were introduced to try to stop treating. Do you think those laws have worked?

ATA: I think this is the reason why lawyer Eliota Sapolu is calling on the government to consider these laws. We were talking with other people in court who suggested that in the next general election they should not allow any petition filed to be withdrawn unless all the allegations are heard in court and let the court decide.