Thirty one percent of people who registered for the 2016 General Election did not vote.
The figure was revealed at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) yesterday during the third day of Pacific Islands University Research Network (P.I.U.R.N) Conference.
The major findings from the 2016 Samoa General Elections Review were launched by Associate Professor Nicole Haley and Dr. Roannie Ng Shiu, from the Australian National University (A.N.U).
“Samoa needs to be congratulated for the successful implementation of its gender quota, particularly in view of the fact that under-representation more pronounced in the Pacific than anywhere else in the world,” said Prof. Haley.
“It mandated that a minimum of five seats in Parliament be held by women, with provisions for up to five additional seats, to be filled by the highest-polling unsuccessful female candidates from the election, should fewer than five women be elected in a general election.”
Prof. Haley said that voters residing on freehold, leased and other non-customary land in urban Apia were able to register for the first time in one of two newly created urban constituencies.
To do so they needed to have been residing in the constituency for no less than six months prior to the election.
One issue highlighted by the observation team is the uneven size of constituencies in Samoa, which, although in some ways an inevitable by-product of traditional political divisions, creates significant representational disparities.
“Unlike other countries where electoral boundaries are drawn and periodically redrawn based on shifts in population, constituencies in Samoa were and continue to be organised around traditional political districts that were associated with paramount matai titles,” said Prof. Haley.
“As at the 2016 election the smallest constituency was Lepa, with 764 registered voters; whilst the largest constituency was Faleata West, with 5091. On average there are 2365 registered voters in each Samoan constituency.
“Apart from the variation in the size of electorates, the prioritising of traditional political organisation results in uneven representation across the country, and especially between the two main islands,” she said.
In Savai’i the ratio of Members of Parliament to registered voters is 1:1868, compared to 1:2738 for Upolu.
Indeed while Upolu has three times the population of Savai’i, it has only seven more constituencies.
Because Samoa’s constituencies are not and never have been relatively equivalent in size, citizens in some constituencies and some parts of the country have greater voting power than others, meaning Samoa fails to achieve a key cornerstone of representative democracy.
“Many residents of Upolu, especially residents of Apia are registered voters in Savai’i constituencies,” Prof Haley said.
“In fact, the voting-age population, as per census data, of Samoan constituencies usually does not correspond closely at all with the number of registered voters, which would be an additional difficulty in a review of electoral boundaries,” Prof. Haley said.
“This was the first in-depth research-based Domestic Election Observation of its kind to be carried out in Samoa, the research design and methodologies were based on previous projects led by A.N.U academics in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
Overall the 2016 election should be considered a success.
Prof. Haley congratulated the then Acting Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, and his team for delivering a highly credible election.
Assistant Electoral Commissioner, Francis Ainu’u was present during the presentation of the report and he appreciated Prof. Haley’ comments.
“We have been working together with the A.N.U and N.U.S on this project. The results were mainly from the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C) of Samoa,” said Mr Ainu’u.
“The results will also advise the candidates.
“The report was not reviewed by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner as it is now not yet official,” added Mr Ainu’u.
“There were some challenges, particularly in relation to the number and location polling stations in urban Apia such as the provision of extra polling stations, which were intended to mitigate anticipated concerns arising from the new regulation prohibiting candidates from offering transport to voters, and the difficulties some voters might experience getting to a polling station, saw O.E.C capacity stretched thin on polling day and seemingly did not go far enough the address the anticipated logistical challenges,” Prof. Haley said.
This should be easily mitigated in future elections.
Looking forward another key area requiring attention is the electoral legislation.
“As a consequence, the legislation is now replete with terminological inconsistencies, such that key electoral roles or positions are referred to by different names in different parts of the legislation,” explained Prof. Haley.
“For example the terms Assistant Electoral Officer (A.E.O), Deputy Returning Officer (D.R.O) and Presiding Officer (P.O) are seemingly used interchangeably, reflecting, we suspect, the preference of the different drafters responsible for the legislative amendments enacted at various times.
“A completely new and revised Electoral Act is needed given the significant changes recommended in this report and anomalies which exist in the current Act (Government of Samoa 2006:19), although this did not transpire.
“We recommend that the Act be reviewed for consistency as a matter of priority,” she said.
The high degree of confidence voters and observers registered in relation to the election, but the relatively low turnout is of concern.
“Voters turn out in total of 69 per cent it does not account four constituencies who did not vote,” said Prof. Haley.
“It resulted up to five ministers who lost their seats, fifty member quotas activated with six of the official election petitions and three private petitions,” she added.
There was a little tension during the campaign period with campaign activities mostly low-key and conducted peacefully, notwithstanding isolated incidents such as the vandalism of one candidate’s billboards.
“It is a sustained visibility in the village,” said Prof. Haley.
“In the two constituencies we observed that were won by a female candidate they focused on village meetings and door-to-door campaigning.
“In several constituencies, polling officials were co-opted very late in the process, and received no formal training.
While polling officials in general conducted themselves well, these last-minute personnel changes presented some administrative challenges,” she said.
There was an increase in the number of polling booths
“In many places polling completed before 2pm, in some cases preliminary count took less than 30 minutes,” explained Prof. Haley.
“At each polling station there were voters who required assistance, which slowed the voting process somewhat, and led, in cases, to procedural breaches, such as voting taking place in vehicles outside polling stations.”
Prof. Haley explained that the majority of citizens surveyed considered the 2016 elections better than the 2011 and 2006 elections, both in terms of general peacefulness and the extent to which money politics influenced the conduct of the elections.
The new parliamentary gender quota was one of the major topics of discussion during the election period.
“Almost all of the observers in every constituency noted that they believed female voters were able to vote freely and without undue influence,” said Prof. Haley.
The four women elected were Fiame Naomi Mata’afa (Deputy Prime Minister), Gatoloai Amataga Alesana-Gidlow, Faimalotoa Kika Iemaima Stowers , Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and the 50th member for the Samoa Quota was Faaulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers
“This means young Samoan women are participating in elections as voters at a higher rate compared to their male counterparts,” concluded Prof. Haley.
*Both Katalina and Julie are media and journalism students.