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Samoa Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has defended a decision by the Office of the Electoral Commission (OEC) to create an additional parliamentary seat for Alataua Sisifo.
The OEC announced on Tuesday it was appointing a sixth woman candidate and increasing Parliament’s seats to meet a quota mandating that 10 per cent of all MPs are women.
Speaking on Wednesday, Tuilaepa endorsed the decision, which will bring a Human Rights Protection Party candidate, Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, into Parliament.
The caretaker leader of the Government noted that the same issue occurred in 2016, where former Member of Parliament, Fa'aulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers was afforded a seat in Parliament.
Selecting which additional woman to install in Parliament is derived from a calculation based on a percentage of which candidate secured the highest proportion of her constituency’s votes, not vote totals.
“It is the same issue that occurred in 2016,” he said, noting that the same questions were asked back then, which were clarified as well.
Samoa's longest-serving Prime Minister said the additional seat for women is in line with women's empowerment.
Under the Constitution of Samoa, after each election a minimum of 10 per cent of the elected members must be women. But an extra explanation in the law, intended to avoid confusion, has created more debate since last week.
Together the five women who were elected at the close of the 2021 General Elections makeup 9.8 per cent of the house. An actual 10 per cent would be 5.1 women, leaving doubts over how to ensure the requirement is fulfilled.
When the law for the 10 per cent threshold was introduced in 2013, there were 49 seats in Parliament. So the amendment included the line that “for the avoidance of doubt, presently” 10 per cent of the house meant five women.
On Tuesday night, the Office of the Electoral Commission confirmed that the threshold of 10 per cent women representation in Parliament had not been met in the recent General Election.
Five women were duly elected at the completion of the Final Count of votes for the 2021 General Election but the Office of the Electoral Commission confirmed this week that they were seeking legal advice on whether another woman must be brought in to Parliament, with contention over whether those elected met the country's legal threshold.
Then on Tuesday night, the OEC issued a warrant of election which was shared to social media, signed by the Head of State, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, declaring that Aliimalemanu Moti Moemoemausu Alofa Tuuau of Alataua Sisifo was elected to Parliament.
At a press conference held at his office on Wednesday, Tuilaepa said that in 2011 the Pacific leaders met in New Zealand where then-United Nations Secretary General Tupua Ban Ki-moon spoke about the empowerment of women.
“It was outlined that there are nine Parliaments that do not have women Parliamentarians and six out of those nine are in the Pacific Islands,” he said.
“I was shocked.
"At that time I already appointed Fiame [Naomi Mata’afa] as the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration and the Office of the Electoral Commission.
“At the time there were four female Parliamentarians from 2011, however in 2016 there were only two left in Parliament,” said the caretaker Prime Minister.”
He said Ban Ki-moon’s words made him think seriously about women’s representation.
“And this led to consultations with the Cabinet to amend the constitution and electoral laws, having the mandatory 10 per cent of women in Parliament,” he said.
He also said the move would also benefit the country by attracting funding for programmes for the empowerment of women in Samoa.
Tuilaepa claimed that in many parts of the world, such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, a mentality that women were born to raise families prevails.
“In Africa, girls are not allowed to attend school and they are not allowed to have their own businesses, but that does not happen in Samoa,” said the caretaker Prime Minister.
“We have a lot of female Chief Executive Officers including the Attorney General; Samoa Law Reform Commission; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, another woman,”
He added the CEO for the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture is also a woman, as well as the CE. for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The caretaker Prime Minister said that the HRP. does not discriminate on the basis of gender when it extends opportunities to Samoans who have returned from overseas schooling to serve in the country.
The OEC notice published on Tuesday evening accompanying the warrant stated that Article 44(1a) of the Constitution had been activated as less than 10 per cent of women had been elected to Parliament in the election.
The commission said that only 9.8 per cent MPs for the XVII Parliament were women, short of the constitutional minimum.
When the law to boost the number of women in Parliament was introduced in 2013, there were 49 seats.The amendment included the line that “for the avoidance of doubt, presently” 10 per cent of the house meant five women needed to be elected.
The Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio told the Samoa Observer on Monday that he was guided by that provision when declaring the election results, particularly over the meaning of the “presently”.
SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS
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