Public engagement critical in election democracy

At a time when there are so many polarising issues before this nation, it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus of what matters the most and why.

When you add a General Election to the mix where all sorts of controversies pop up, it can become confusing to the point where quite often, the most important issues are given the least attention.

It doesn’t just happen in Samoa. It happens the world over and we’ve just witnessed a global example in the United States election where the real issues were often buried and ignored amidst the battle of stardom, status, personalities and vendetta.

It takes a focused and quality leader to tune out all the unnecessary noises and bring focus and clarity on matters of real importance. It takes a bold leader to stand his/her conviction on a matter of national importance when there is a smorgasbord of popular topics that could win more support and increase a party’s fan base.

The thought comes to mind after reading a couple of stories in the Sunday Samoan. The first was printed on the front page under the headline “Exercise your authority, Fiame rallies against bills.” In the middle of what was quite a big week for the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) campaign with rallies in Savai’i and Upolu, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has continued her focused crusade against the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.

Fearing how the bills will reshape the Judiciary, remove people’s fundamental rights, erode the sanctity of the Constitution and destroy the rule of law, she used the F.A.S.T platform to make a very important plea to all members of the public. She wants the people of Samoa to exercise the authority they possess through their votes, to tell their Members of Parliament to vote against the three bills, when they are brought back to Parliament for the third reading this month.

"Tell them, 'if you do not have love to withdraw and give enough time for these bills to be reviewed again properly, we will not vote for you',”  Fiame urged. “This is the way you exercise your authority, we all have this authority. This is why we should all have love [for Samoa] let us do our collective role."

Aside from sticking to her fight against the bills, Fiame has also raised a critical point in reminding the public that the authority over these matters should ultimately rest with the people. The impact and consequences of these bills will hurt the people of this country. It is imperative that they become involved and engaged. It’s a critical element of public engagement in terms of elections we haven’t seen enough of in Samoa in the recent past.

Why? At the end of the day, nurturing nationhood and instigating necessary changes should be a decision by “we the people” when their Members of Parliament listen to their constituents instead of these changes being at the whim of a political party and a few overpowering individuals.

What’s happening today and how this Government went about introducing these bills, and now ramming them through, is undemocratic and a recipe for disaster.

Which is why we feel a number of points raised by the former Attorney General, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, in an opinion piece she wrote for the Sunday Samoan, are valid and worth reflecting upon. Cautioning that Samoa’s democracy is being eroded by the behaviour of the current administration, Taulapapa asked several critical questions that “we the people” and “the nation” ask ourselves as we prepare to exercise the authority vested in us, come next April.

Among the questions asked are:

• Is the Government complying with the law and its own policies and procedures?

• Are the Parliamentary representatives we have voted for, able to protect our welfare and wellbeing by advancing our causes (in and out of the house), and are they free to express their views and offer their unique contribution on any subject?

• If one of us is willing and able to seek public office, is the process of doing so fair, independent, and based on merit 

• Do our laws bring benefit and improvement from what came before, or what we have now?

• Are we listening to what people need, or are we listening only to ourselves, and focused only on what we want and what our families and friends need?

• Are our electoral boundaries consistent with our traditional cultural and regional territorial divisions which are recognized in our fa’alupega?

Now let us be reminded today that Samoa is a free country where freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. Everyone will have their own answers. And it would be most wonderful to begin an educated conversation, where we focus on the issues as opposed to the nasty name-calling and character assassinations we’ve become accustomed to over the years, whenever someone finds the courage to ask difficult questions.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Government could respond publically to these critical questions? Who is stopping the incumbent Attorney General, or any of those senior Government officials in a position of authority, from telling us what they think?

Samoa after all belongs to all of us. Publically discussing the issues that matter and the exchange of constructive views based on facts is not only healthy, it will go a long way to restore what does indeed appear to be an eroding democracy.















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