Political parties coy ahead of election
Political parties are keeping the names of their candidates to themselves and campaigns low key as the 2021 general election draws near.
Aside from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), there are three other registered political parties: Tautua Samoa Party, Samoa First Political Party and Samoa National Democratic Party (S.N.D.P.).
With the next general election scheduled in April 2021, the leaders of the parties are not revealing their cards yet, saying their candidates will come out on their own and when they are ready.
Tautua Samoa Party President, Luagalau Dr. Wood Salele, said the former opposition party will not be disclosing the candidates at the moment.
“Some don’t want to reveal their names yet but I am in contact with our candidates,” said Luagalau.
“There are 49 seats to fill in parliament and we need to fill as many seats as we can, we are going in for 49 seats or even more candidates.
“We have quite a few women candidates and it's going to be a very interesting race.”
The party currently has two members seated in Parliament against 47 H.R.P.P. members.
They include veteran M.P. for Falealupo, Aeau Peniamina Leavaiseeta and Aana Alofi No2 M.P., Ili Setefano Taateo.
Ili had repeatedly declined to comment about reports that he plans to switch to ruling H.R.P.P. in the upcoming general election.
Luagalau said the party has not been officially informed of Ili’s intention to change sides.
He added that, should the Tautua Samoa M.P. intend to switch, he would have to surrender his seat as he ran under the Tautua banner for Parliament or wait until Parliament dissolves for the election before changing political parties.
Speaking about campaign, the President said each candidate is doing their own campaign due to restrictions imposed under the state of emergency orders for COVID-19.
He urged the Office of the Electoral Commission to look into other ways to encourage people to come in to register for the 2021 race under the current restrictions.
Luagalau said people don’t feel inclined to register with the current orders in place, especially with the candidates committee being banned in the new Electoral Act.
The Samoa First Party Leader, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, confirmed the party has about 20 candidates so far, not including those in Savai’i.
Unasa said the party is doing its own preparations for the general election despite limitations imposed by the state orders for preventative measures of the coronavirus.
Unlike Tautua and Samoa First, the S.N.D.P. party has put its campaigns on hold since the state of emergency (S.O.E.).
S.N.D.P. Interim President, Vui Masinamua Seinafolava said the measures have been unfair for his party, which has not been able to meet to discuss their election preparations.
“This is quite unfair for us because the Government is doing its campaign right through this,” said Vui.
“We haven’t been able to do any campaign to go out to the community and spread our message to the people because of restrictions on movement and gatherings.
“If the state of emergency continues and gets extended then we won't be able to do our preparations and it's an unfair playing field…that is unless the Electoral office extends election to September [next year].”
Vui confirmed the party has about 17 candidates and will only have their names revealed once the political party's manifesto is made public “when we are ready”.
He added that the candidates have yet to meet with their villages and inform their constituency of their intentions to run in the general election.
Until then the political parties are not revealing any names of candidates.
In response to questions from the Samoa Observer, Commissioner of the Electoral Office, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, said the office had continued to open its doors to people for registration since the S.O.E. was declared.
“These are testing times and we’ve managed to adapt in accordance with the measures our Government had put in place to ensure the safety of our country from this COVID-19,” said Faimalo.
“Our Office has opened throughout the [state of emergency] and we have had a fair number of people coming in to register.
“When the situation improves, our Office will again come out to villages that have requested for our registration services.
“This is to ensure that all eligible voters are given ample opportunities to register.”’
Once the rolls close, the Electoral Office will then work the Samoa Bureau of Statistics to identify those that have not registered then initiate legal proceedings against those people as required by law.
The Commissioner confirmed the general election is tentatively earmarked for April, which is within the legal requirements of the Constitution of when the event will take place.
He said the Prime Minister will officially announce the exact date publicly in due course.
“But given the uncertainties COVID-19 brings, we never know,” he added.
As for concerns raised by Luagalau, on people not feeling inclined to register due to S.O.E. orders, the Commissioner pointed out registration has been open since 2016.
“We have been coming around the country to deliver that service since 2016,” he said.
“We still are doing that right up to the closing date of rolls which is six months before the election date.
“So at the moment, we are not expecting an extension [date for registration].”
In terms of campaign, Faimalo said the law does not define when the campaign period starts but only specifies the time it closes.
Under the Electoral Act 2019, a candidate is prohibited from campaigning during the prohibited period for campaigns.
That period is defined as the time commencing 12pm on the day before polling day and ending when the official declaration of results is made.
Faimalo said the Electoral Office is reviewing the Act and will propose an amendment to define exactly when the campaign period starts and when it ends, taking into account the pre-polling period the Electoral Act 2019 has introduced.
Approved methods that candidates can use for campaigns include handing out pamphlets of candidates' personal background and issues they support, use of billboards, and oral or filmed speeches or presentations.
The Commissioner advises candidates to focus on issues that will develop the country’s future when they start their campaigns.
Voters are also encouraged to have a sense of ownership when it comes to their votes.
“Use that vote wisely when the election time comes,” he urged.
“Elections only come around every five years. Make the most of it but you need to register first.”