A suggestion for Samoa to mirror New Zealand’s election process was met by an interesting response during the Democracy and Development in Samoa National conference this week.
Held at Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, presented on the issues from previous elections.
He spoke about reviewing Electoral boundaries in Samoa. He presented challenges and some of the changes they are proposing.
On the panel Members of Parliament Olo Fiti Vaai and Lealaipule Rimoni Aiafi were joined by Aiolupotea Taatiti Visetoka and Muagututi’a Sefuiava Reupena.
According to Faimalomatumua’s presentation, the current set up has issues.
He noted one issue was the population trends of people migrating namely to Faleata, Vaimauga and Sagaga.
He also highlighted geography abnormalities such as Sagaga le Falefa has Sagaga le Usoga and Leauva’a aligned in the middle of it.
Leauva’a is currently part of Gagaemauga Number 1 which is in Savaii, same as Satuimalufilufi. Geographically, this village is located within the boundaries of Aiga i le Tai and its currently part of Aana Alofi Number 3.
There is also Salamumu which is “like Leauva’a, it’s located in Upolu but part of Gagaemauga Number.2 in Savai’i.”
The Electoral Commissioner proposed for the New Zealand practice to be implemented on electoral boundaries, but only in Upolu, for now.
The current set up of boundaries contains considerable abnormalities that warrant a review of existing electoral boundaries to ensure fair representation.
He also pointed out the population trend of people continuing to migrate to the urban for social and personal reasons also warrants constant review of the boundaries if Samoa is to align itself with the best practices and fair representation of voters in Parliament Electoral Boundaries should be review after every elections/Census to reflect migration trends.
Panelist Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi agrees with the move to have electoral boundaries but was against using systems from other countries.
“There is no perfect system, I thank New Zealand for giving us some guidelines but we cannot use their proposal, we can’t be following them,” he said.
“We are matured enough to look at our own system that is practical and fit for Samoa."
“What works in Fiji and Tonga does not work in Samoa.”
He emphasized the traditional chiefly titles of each boundaries.
“We cannot detach ourselves from the traditions in the villages when it comes to our boundaries."
“I do agree we need to redefine the boundaries, but we have to strike a balance of democracy and what works in Samoa.”
He gave an example. “Savai’i represents 26% of the population and they have 20-22 Members of Parliament.
However for Faleata, Vaimauga, Apia and the urban areas, the current population is now 34% with only seven MP’s.
The current system for the constituency are very much unrepresented and some are overly represented.”
Olo Fiti was adamant the proposed changes will hinder traditions and Samoa’s way of doing things in the village.
“We don’t want this change,” he said. “
My brief conclusion is that the whole idea is to facilitate the current election system. However you have to remember, the Samoan way of life in the villages, when Chiefs from each respective villages meet.”
He gave an example, in his village of Saleaula, given his title and with the merging of the boundaries; he will be the only chief talking.
“What about the Chiefs from the other villages in the County.”
He said merging the villages to facilitate the electoral boundaries is absurd. According to Olo, for his village there are 800 voters but another village in the same county there are 2,000 voters.
“I will never win a seat for Saleaula, because there are more voters in the other villages.”
He said the numerous changes in the election system is fishy and “this is because the government wants to win all the time.
“This is corruption and they are looking for creative ways to win, all these changes of systems is all corrupt and I’m sorry to say that but it’s all true.”