Compulsory voting will eliminate vote selling and lead to the changing of mindsets among voters that candidates ‘own' their votes.
Speaking on the move by the Government to introduce amendments to electoral laws to make voting compulsory in Samoa, Electoral Commissioner Faimalo Mathew Lemisio said under the current legislation it is only compulsory for voters to register.
But a proposed bill by the Government will change that and make it mandatory for eligible voters to vote according to the Electoral Commissioner.
“The argument that it breaches our constitutional rights – the right to choose but if you look in the Constitution you cannot find any right that says you have a right to choose…choose what? Under the Constitution, we have our fundamental rights that provide our freedom, so your vote in our opinion comes under your right to freedom of expression,” he said, in an interview with Samoa Observer.
“Under Article 13 it says that you have the right to freedom of speech, but if you keep on reading the whole article it also has a provision that says the Government can make laws to control the exercise of your freedom. Under the Constitution we are accorded certain rights, but all these rights are not absolute accept for right to life.”
The change in voter behavior in Samoa in recent years compelled the Government to consider legislation to address declining standards in the country’s democratic practices, with Faimalo referring to the practice of candidates transporting voters to register and giving them money to buy food.
“Every time we come to elections we have voters who are saying ‘I will only vote if the candidate picks me up from house, take me to register, give me some money to buy some food’. That is the reality and no matter how much we’re saying it’s not happening, no it is happening and that is the trend. And under Article 13 it says that if it is affecting our moral standards of our society then the Government must do something about it.”
Faimalo said the forefathers of the country would not be happy to see the decline in standards, which is why the Government had to act to address it.
“So now by making the votes compulsory, that will take away that mindset on the candidates own the votes. They think they bring the voters to register, they should vote for them. When we have the compulsory voting, the voter must vote."
"If the voter doesn’t vote, the matter will be dealt with after the elections. However, for the candidate’s part, there is no obligation on them to pick them up, as they know the voter has to go and vote,” he added.