As the country heads to the polling booths to cast their votes in today’s General Elections, the man who has been entrusted with preparing the country for an occasion that happens once every five years has a very simple message.
“Your vote is your voice. Make it count.”
With those few words, Acting Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, hopes Samoa enjoys a peaceful election. He says there is a sense of excitement in the air.
“This is the only opportunity for any ordinary citizen to contribute to the development of the political landscape,” he said.
“This is the only time when you the voter has the power to say ‘look I want this person to represent me in Parliament.' So my message for everyone is to make use of that opportunity.”
There is no place for bribery, treating or corruption in a democratic electoral process, he said.
“What is the point of you saying later on that this should be done when you didn’t contribute to the election in a lawful way?"
“The election is the basis upon which the governance of any country starts. If we accept bribes now, imagine what kind of leaders we will get?”
Faimalo said people should vote freely and not have their judgments clouded.
For the Acting Electoral Commissioner and his team, today is the culmination of years of hard work. When Cabinet terminated the services of the previous Electoral Commissioner, and with the General Elections looming, Faimalomatumua was handed the role to prepare the country for the elections and he has not looked back.
He is humbled by the privilege and he is quick to acknowledge his working team at the O.E.C and the support of his family.
“We have people in the office who have experience in elections. My role is to coordinate the team to prepare for the election. It’s not a one man show. Everyone has a role to play in this process and I have a lot of confidence in the team.”
A lawyer and a journalist by profession, Faimalo started at O.E.C as an Assistant Commissioner two years ago. One of his first tasks was to raise awareness among the voters and candidates about what their obligations are under the Electoral Act.
“We are mindful it will never be a perfect system,” said Faimalo. “There will always be issues and lapses. So every time we feel that we have dropped the ball and made mistakes, we acknowledge it and keep moving.
“While we have the opportunity to serve our country through these positions, we have to make sure that we do justice to it before we leave.”
And it is the pursuit for justice that has guided the office throughout its preparations, without any special treatment for politicians.
At the age of 35, Faimalo felt he was too young to take on such an important role. He said the nature of the office deals directly with politics and politicians.
“You are in a position to make decisions - sometimes hard decisions and most of the time politicians don’t like it,” said the Acting Commissioner.
“There is a law and you have to base your decision on it. If you do that people will not like you but you get to go home and have a goodnight sleep knowing you made the right decision.
“Whereas if you make the wrong decision, your guilt can turn you over and over again in bed. But when you make the right decision, you will have no issue sleeping.”
On person level, before Faimalo worked at the Electoral Office, he admits he was never interested in the election.
“When we got onboard we saw the lack of interest from young people,” he said.
“We started putting up awareness programmes and writing scripts for T.V ads.
“With those advertisement, its very current and at the same time it has that old guy that still represents that old school thinking that election is for old people and matai which is something we are trying to change.”
Faimalo said they have received a lot of positive feedback about their awareness campaigns. For instance, from raw data they collected from newly registered voters, they were aware of the election through advertisements and text messages.
“That assured us that we are doing something that impacts and changes the reaction from the public,” said Faimalo. “One other positive thing for me is building morale in the office. In a office that is demanding like this you need a friendly environment so that everyone can enjoy and thrive.”
There is no doubt that the workload has had its toll on Faimalo who admits he has grown a few more grey hairs. However, he acknowledged how this part of his career has helped him.
Faimalo said he feels a lot more confident in speaking publicly. As part of their job and during the amendment of the Electoral Act process, they were tasked to make presentations to Parliament.
“That was nerve wracking for me,” he said.
“But the up side is that it has built my confidence in public speaking. For us we hate seeing ourselves on TV and newspapers and my daughter hates it but someone has to do it.”
Faimalo recalled that one night while his daughter was watching T.V. he heard her say ‘not again.’
“I asked her what it was and she said I am always on T.V. I have one more week and hopefully I won’t be seen anymore.”
Another one of his highlights was attending a meeting with the Minister of Electoral Office also the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fiame Naomi. He recalled that when it was time for Samoa’s presentation on the women seats, there was a lot of support from other Pacific countries.
“When you’re sitting there in an international meeting hearing people admire the courage from our political leaders, you just feel very proud,” he said.
“It’s the first time I have experienced that and every other presenter after that always made reference to Samoa. When our forefathers designed our Electoral Act and incorporated our culture into it, it was the best thing our forefathers did and I hope the cultural component in it won’t be removed.
“I don’t think any country had incorporated their culture in an Electoral Act like us.”