Political parties reaching voters online

The upcoming general election is shaping up to be the first Samoan poll in which the internet features prominently in many political parties' campaigns and election strategies. 

Digital campaigning was brought to the forefront this week, after the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party revealed that it was reaching prospective voters via digital means. 

F.A.S.T.’s candidate for Anoamaa No. 2, Toomata Norah Siaki, opened an online fundraising  Go Fund Me site, seeking to raise USD$10,000.

Another independent M.P., who intends to stand for F.A.S.T. for the Urban West constituency, Faumuina Wayne Fong, has also opened an account of the Australian-based money-raising platform: My Cause. 

On his My Cause page, he talks of being sacked from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P).

“I ask questions not because I am a rebel, I ask questions because some questions need to be asked and many who are in a position to ask them to choose not to. As a member of the ruling party, those were some of the challenges that I faced. But the challenges don’t end there,” he says.

“When I was ousted or sacked as some have put it from the H.R.P.P. party, I was happy because it meant that I would now be able to freely voice the concerns of my constituency. And that is what I have continued to do ever since," Faumuina said. 

He explains that in 2019, the Government made a decision to do away with the Urban Seats.

There have been 56 donations made to the account named Leatinuu Wayne Sooialo amounting to $8,067, according to information published on My Cause.

Faumuina has a fundraising goal of $20,000.

A survey by the Samoa Observer reveals the H.R.P.P., F.A.S.T., and Tautua Samoa all have an online presence but they vary extensively in the emphasis they place on the medium.

F.A.S.T has incorporated the use of the internet and social media into the core of its campaign 

The leader of the party, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, told the Samoa Observer the party has not prohibited individual fundraising efforts conducted by their candidates. 

Instead, he encourages the use of the internet and social media for campaigning and fundraising. 

“Well, all the others are using the internet too. It’s not new. Whoever wants to fundraise online they can do it. When I ran the by-election, I held a fundraiser for myself,” said Laauli. 

“It is not prohibited. It’s an opportunity to do promotions. This is the new version of promoting and campaigning […] on Facebook and the internet. So we are utilising the opportunity.”

The H.R.P.P. does have an online presence, but its staff and supporters are yet to use online material - or “memes” - to promote and showcase its individual candidates. 

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, in reference to F.A.S.T.’s practice of running roadshows at which they solicit feedback from constituents and erecting advertising billboards, said the opposition party was importing foreign campaign methods.

Tuilaepa said the H.R.P.P. would be sticking to a traditional and tested means of campaigning: 

"[We are] making announcements and advertising within the villages and districts,” he said during his weekly program on Radio 2AP on Thursday.

“We rely on the knowledge and wisdom of the matai and the chosen representative of each district to explain to them our goals and vision.”

By contrast, the F.A.S.T. campaign provides voters on social media with information about its policies and camoaign events. 

The party has an Instagram account, a Twitter account, and a very active Facebook page as well as a separate F.A.S.T. news page. There are multiple F.A.S.T. supporters groups on Facebook.

Tumua ma Puleono and the Samoa National Democratic Party (S.N.D.P.)F.A.S.T. have joined forces with F.A.S.T.

The leader of the Tautua Samoa Party Afualo Dr. Wood Salele, said their party is also using the internet in their campaigns; they have a presence on Facebook and YouTube.

Two political parties, the Sovereign Independent Samoa (S.I.S) party and Samoa First have formed an alliance with Tautua Samoa.

On YouTube, Tautua Samoa candidates are being featured in videos published by the Maota O Samoa Viiga o le Atua Media. The videos can be found on The Jennifer Foundation of Samoan Worship Songs YouTube channel.

There are 20 candidates running under the Tautua Samoa banner.

Candidates from the Tautua Samoa Party are being featured in pairs every Saturday on YouTube.

“We have supporters who have set up these things for us on the internet. We are on YouTube and other social media sites. For about four months now, we have been running videos on YouTube. Every Saturday we have two candidates featured on YouTube," said Afualo.

“Now that we have joined with S.I.S. and Samoa First, we have 20 official candidates. The candidates from S.I.S. and Samoa First are also appearing on YouTube every Saturday.”

Funds for the Tautua campaign, however, are not being sought online, he said. They are using “traditional” means, collecting donations from families and from a weekly barbecue held on Saturday at their Matautu headquarters.

Maota o Samoa Viiga has also hosted fundraising efforts for Tautua, said Afualo. The funds go directly into Tautua’s account.

Afualo said Tautua is likely to form a coalition with F.A.S.T. after the General Election.

“These are public funds and they will have to be audited,” he said.

“We are preparing for the next Government in our coalition with F.A.S.T. and we will form a coalition with F.A.S.T. after the general election. We need 26 seats in Parliament. Of our 20 candidates, we are targeting 10 seats. Hopefully, F.A.S.T. will garner 10 or more seats. We need 26 seats and that’s a new Government.”

Three Facebook groups have been established using the H.R.P.P. name but their affiliation with the H.R.P.P. is not clear.

Candidates are also using their personal social media accounts to promote their campaigns.

F.A.S.T. features candidates individually on Twitter using memes, or shareable pieces of content designed to spread across the internet.

The first candidate featured in a Twitter meme is former Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.) official Ve’atauia Fa’atasi Puleiata.

Ve’atauia is running for the Vaimauga 4 constituency.

A total of 19 candidate memes have been published on the F.A.S.T. Twitter account.  

The role of "memes" and online campaigns have been credited with helping to achieve campaign victories overseas, ranging from the election victory of Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the United Kingdom's leader, Boris Johnson. 

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