Voters' must own their choices at polls: Commissioner

Only voters themselves can ensure that they make a well-informed choice at the ballot box, Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio says.

The Commissioner admitted that some Samoans tend to vote according to personal affiliations but should instead have a “sense of ownership” over their ballots.

"Familial ties amongst our Samoan community [are] pretty strong. Now, for example, your father or mother, or even a sibling is running in the election, who would you vote for?,” he said. “I think we both know the answer to that question.

"The message that we’ve always [driven] through our public awareness programmes is that voters must vote [according to] their own conscience and who they believe would [best] represent their interests in Parliament. 

"We are continuing to drive that message going into 2021."

Next year’s general elections have been scheduled to take place on 9 April. 

The Commissioner’s comments come after a political scientist, Christina Laalaai-Tausa, raised concerns about Samoans’ voting choices.

Dr. Laalaai-Tausa said it was the  Government's job to ensure the people of Samoa are aware of political parties' manifestos and policies. 

"However, right now, we do not have any specifications like other democracies such as New Zealand, Australia and America. Leading up to the general election, there are debates and discussions of issues within constituencies and such," she said. 

"This is where they have speeches describing to the country that should one be elected in office, such and such will be done.  

But Faimalomatumua does not share the same views.

"It’s not just the OEC’s role. It’s everyone’s role. Firstly from the voters themselves. They must have a sense of ownership over their vote. The candidates, the political parties, the village councils and the media of course," he wrote to the Samoa Observer in an emailed response.

"We all play a critical role in this process. The elections, after all, are ours. It’s an opportunity for ordinary citizens who have attained the age of 21 to be heard through the polling booth. 

"Who a voter votes for is not the responsibility of Government. That’s a personal choice highly protected by the law through [the] secrecy of [the] vote."

As an example, the Electoral Commissioner pointed out the definition of [the] campaign period in the Electoral Act and early nominations of candidates for any general election. 

"This allows the voters a fair amount of time to know exactly who the candidates will be for the General Elections; the political parties they stand for; what policies that party manifestos represent’ and what exactly these candidates will lobby for during the defined campaign period which runs for almost six months prior to elections," he said.

"At the end of the day, the voter is accorded a free, fair and inclusive opportunity, in a protected platform, to cast their vote."

On Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister suggested that Dr. Laalaai-Tausa came to Samoa to experience the Samoan politics first hand instead of speaking from overseas.

During his 2AP programme, Tuilaepa also called the New Zealand-based academic as “cheeky”.

“There’s no use talking about the ways of Samoa’s culture when she is a Samoan and she doesn’t even understand,” he said. 

“She needs to understand Samoan politics, by coming here, and sitting in villages and understand how the decisions are made.”

Tuilaepa says that political parties are still announcing their mandates.

“You see how low she thinks. Our people understand our mandates very well because they are delivered in Samoan,” he said.

“This is the problem of those who tend to speak English often and yet do not understand the ways of Samoa and the language of Samoa.”

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