By Soli Wilson in Apia
A Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) associate minister has had his seat of Sagaga No 2 in the Samoa general election declared void by the Supreme Court following a legal challenge, triggering a byelection.
This means previously elected Member of Parliament Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli, a member of the HRPP has been removed from his seat after being found guilty of bribery and treating charges.
The petitioner, Maualaivao Patelesio Ah Him, who ran as an independent candidate, was also found guilty of treating and bribery charges filed in a counter petition.
The ruling was handed down by Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma and Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.
A byelection for the seat will be triggered, the outcome of which will influence the wider Parliament’s balance of power.
It is not known when the byelection will be held. But neither man will be able to stand in the contest, nor will they be able to stand for elected office for 15 years.
In the near-term it increases the majority of the Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party, which will now have a total of 26 confirmed elected members to the HRPP’s 24.
Challenged in court
Maualaivao challenged Seiuli in court, alleging bribery, treating and providing transportation for voters in a bid to influence their votes.
Maualaivao was found guilty of bribery charges laid against him supported by evidence presented by witnesses who claimed to have received amounts of up to $100 when visiting his office at the Nia Mall Building in Fugalei ahead of the April election.
Meanwhile, Seiuli was found guilty of transporting voters to polling booths on election day. He was also found guilty of bribery and treating through the provision of $10,000 in breakfast cash money (suā ti) presented during a village meeting in 2020.
Maualaivao was not present at the court when the decision was delivered. The Supreme Court also raised issues that arose from the case for the Speaker of the House to review.
Both men are former senior Members of Parliament and from the village of Malie.
Seiuli was the former Associate Minister of the Ministry of Works Transport and Infrastructure in the most recent Parliament.
Maualaivao had been a Member of Parliament during the 15th Parliament (2011-2016) for the now-defunct Individual Voters seat, under the HRPP banner.
Ran as an Independent
The 71-year-old businessman failed to return for the 16th Parliament (2016-2021), losing his seat to Faumuina Wayne Fong who won the (rebranded) Urban West seat they were contesting.
For the 2021 general election, he decided to run as an Independent, contesting for the Sagaga No 2 seat.
On the April 9 election Seiuli secured 699 votes to Maualaivao’s 547, the Electoral Commission’s final count showed.
Magele Leone Sua-Mailo represented Maualaivao while Tuatagaloa Shane Wulf represented Seiuli.
Soli Wilson writes for the Samoa Observer. This article is republished with permission.
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.