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APIA, Samoa (May 11, 2000 - Tale Nei News/PINA Nius Online)---The government has appointed two of its severest critics to an Electoral Reform Commission with the stated aim of improving transparency in the much criticized electoral system.

Newspaper publisher/editor, Savea Sano Malifa, often the lone voice against the corruption of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) for over a decade, has been appointed a member.

Savea has won a host of awards from international media organizations for his stand against strong HRPP laws that stifle the flow of information, costing him high legal fees on occasions and physical assault.

Since Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi took over from the late Tofilau Eti Alesana as Prime Minister, however, Savea's attitude towards government has softened somewhat -- even praising Tuilaepa for trying to install transparency in government recently.

Another constant HRPP critic, former Cabinet minister Ulualofaiga Talamaivao Niko of the opposition Samoa National Development Party (SNDP), has also been appointed to the Electoral Reform Commission as one of the two representatives of Samoan voters.

Ulualofaiga was a constant thorn in HRPP's side and often faced ejection from the House until he lost his seat in the last general elections.

Opposition leader Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi has been among those calling for an independent electoral commission based on those existing in Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

One of the reform commission's tasks is to consider "the separation of electoral duties and responsibilities for employees of the Electoral Office for transparency purposes."

The opposition has long been outraged by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, a political appointee, who HRPP gave the jobs of Registrar of Voters and Chief Returning Officer as well.

Some opposition members said this conflict of interest cost them their seats and blamed the present holder of the jobs, Mase Toia Alama -- also pointing out that in effect Mase registered and counted the votes while her late husband was one of the candidates who won.

Just last week Opposition leader Tuiatua complained of a recent electoral reform report saying, "The conspicuous flaw in the report is its failure to address a fundamental problem which is, the Clerk of the House is the Registrar of electors/voters and Chief Returning Officer.

"Even Indonesia and Papua New Guinea enjoy a more equitable electoral regimen."

Other areas critics say need changing are voting eligibility, which has allowed constituents to vote twice- - in one constituency in general elections and then in another constituency where they have the required blood links in a by-election.

The reform commission has been asked to evaluate this.

Bribery and treating is standard in elections and the requirement that losers must have at least 50 percent of the votes of the winning candidate before they can challenge the result in court has often been complained about.

Candidates must now reside in Samoa a year before they can run, but government has introduced an amendment extending that to three years.

This would effectively wipe out the top candidates of a new political party who have served their one-year residency requirement.

Tuiatua complains this robs expatriate Samoans of their democratic right to have a say in a country, which they keep afloat financially with remittances.

Candidates pay for ID cards that identify each voter and hold on to them until just before they go to cast votes -- another issue the reform commission might touch on because it is required to consider use of the cards.

Any reforms are likely to come into effect before the next general elections, early next year, because the reform commission has been given only a month to do their job.

Apart from Savea and Ulualofaiga, the other members of the commission are ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma (chairman), Margaret Reid (for individual voters); Reverend Faatoese Auvaa (representative of the churches), Tauavamea Tauialo Lanuimoana Palepoi (for Samoan voters), and Leaupep Lanerivi (for the legal profession).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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