Today the onus is on us to keep our democracy on track

Samoa has come a long way since it gained independence from New Zealand in 1962 and in doing so became the first sovereign Pacific Island state. 

And the nation’s parliamentary democracy continues to evolve as governments made changes to the country’s constitutional framework over the years, which in their wisdom at that time would put Samoa on the path to prosperity.

One such decision was made 30 years ago by the Tofilau Eti government, which saw the introduction of universal suffrage which gave everyone over the age of 21 the right to vote for matai candidates in their respective constituencies, which previously remained the domain of the matai.

The ability of Samoan citizens – both the titled and untitled men and women – to have equal political rights, when it came to having a voice in the 51-seat Parliament through their votes, was a major boost to the democratisation of Samoan politics and gave the Parliament more legitimacy in terms of representation.

Though there will be proponents of the old system, where only titled men and women could vote in what local academics refer to as the ‘matai suffrage’, who to this day could still question the rationale of relinquishing their authority as matai to vote on behalf of their families whose interests they continue to represent.

But those clashes of the old versus the new are understandable, as the journey of nationhood was never meant to be a walk in the park, even as Samoa prepares to celebrate 59 years of independence on June 1 this year.

American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”

So we have to keep moving in this journey, which is why today 9 April 2021, we, yet again, find ourselves at the crossroads.

And in the seventh edition of our universal suffrage since the 1991 electoral reforms, all untitled and titled men and women have once again been given the opportunity to vote for their representative to the XVII Legislative Assembly.

For a democracy such as ours – it doesn't get any better than this and we owe it to the wisdom of our Forefathers for coming this far – as we only have to look around the world today to see how other states either lost theirs or were never given the opportunity at all to go down this path.

The journey of nationhood continues with the fine-tuning of our electoral systems, which saw the introduction of pre-polling that enabled special categories of voters including those aged 65 and above and people living with disability to cast their votes.

This new provision in Samoa’s electoral law is a huge boost in our efforts to get our brand of democracy to become more inclusive, especially members of the community who previously faced barriers in their strive to have a voice in the Parliament.

Our journey as a nation is always work in progress and the voters now get another opportunity to decide who represents their interests through the ballot box.

Citizens can only claim ownership of the electoral process, in order to determine the outcome of a general election and ultimately the makeup of our next Parliament and a new government, if they participate by voting in their constituencies.

When voting ends at 4pm on Friday and counting of the ballots for the 48 electoral constituencies begin soon after, those candidates and political parties that played their cards right in terms of their messaging and appeal to voters, would begin to show in terms of the ballot totals.

But it is the period between the counting of the ballot papers after 4pm on Friday and the declaration of the winners of the various constituencies on Friday night to early Saturday, which could ultimately define us and our respect for a system of government that has brought us far as a nation.

There will be winners and losers from this exercise of democracy which lasted five days and culminated with today’s one-day general election where a total of 128,849 voters registered.

And citizens have higher expectations of the candidates who put their hands up to be considered for the noble task of representing their constituencies and the people in the Parliament.

Leadership always comes with responsibilities, which includes respect for the country’s electoral policies and the laws that govern the conduct of elections, and acknowledgement with humility of the decision of the voters.

The law is there for those who feel aggrieved nevertheless camaraderie amongst candidates, voters and political parties supporters should be the order of the day at the conclusion of this democratic exercise.

To all candidates and political parties, malo lava for your self belief and confidence in our journey of nationhood as a democratic nation and may the votes of the people result in the elevation of the best men and women to lead our nation.

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