It is our general election: let’s make it work!

Five years of planning by the Office of the Electoral Commission will be put to the test this week when the country goes to the polls for the 2021 General Election.

Pre-polling for voters – who are categorised as being part of the essential services workforce, are living with disabilities, who travel before the 9 April election, or are aged 65 years and over – started on Monday from 9am to 4pm and will run until Thursday this week.

The election will be a mammoth task for the O.E.C. staff and the Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, considering a total of 128,848 voters registered to cast their votes in this election cycle.

And Faimalo made no secret of the assignment at hand in an interview with the Samoa Observer published in the 04 April 2021 edition of the Sunday Samoan (O.E.C. ready for “free and fair elections”). 

“We are probably 90 per cent complete, and the last 10 per cent will be next week [Monday],” said Faimalo.

“We’ve done all the training for scrutineers, for polling officials, now we’re focusing on getting all the ballot stations sorted for pre-polling.”

The Commissioner said they have been preparing for elections since 2016; developing a strategic plan for work that has unfolded over the last five years. Part of that was the introduction of pre-polling.

With the country in the early days of pre-polling, we must say the signs are good with those who qualify under this special category of voters including the elderly in good spirits and showing camaraderie at the various voting stations on Monday, manned by the O.E.C. staff and volunteers.

On Monday the O.E.C. started its first ‘Samoa General Election Live Stream Service’ through its official Facebook page, which was hosted by the commission’s Public Relations Officer, Vaasiliega Iupati Lagaaia.

The Facebook livestream service, which will provide live updates of the election preparations including pre-polling numbers from 12pm, will run from Monday to Thursday this week.

On Friday the day of the general election, the Facebook livestream broadcast will start from 9am until all the results of the 2021 General Election are declared.

In an age where misinformation on social media during a general election can impact on voter turnout and even threaten the conducting of a free and fair election, the decision by the O.E.C. to provide daily updates through their Facebook livestream service until the end of the polling is a step in the right direction.

Even the revelation last month of the O.E.C. in a collaboration with the U.S. tech giant Facebook to oversee guidelines, in relation to the use of political ads on the social media platform, is welcome indeed.

As a representative democracy, the onus is on all of us in Samoa to make this general election work, in order for the people’s choice through their votes to translate to an elected government at the conclusion of the electoral process.

And having been independent for 59 years, Samoa’s every election cycle has had winners and losers as the candidates compete to be of service to their constituencies and ultimately the country.

At the end of this week, when the last ballot box is emptied and the last ballot paper counted under the watchful eyes of election scrutineers, the general election would be over and the figures in the O.E.C. Central Tally Room would point out the victors to kick start the process of government formation and the sitting of the XVII Legislative Assembly and newly elected representatives.

The maturity of our representative democracy dictates that the candidates accept the judgement of the voters, use our courts if candidates have reason to question the election outcome, promote a peaceful transition for the next government, and promise to work together for the betterment of the people even while seated in the Opposition bench.

Even the role of an effective Opposition in the new Parliament cannot be downplayed at this juncture of our history, on the eve of another general election.

To be thrown the responsibility of being the Opposition, in a representative democracy following a general election, opens the door to becoming the eyes and ears of citizens and being gifted with the noble task of holding a government to account. 

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