Free and fair by-elections crucial
The seven by-elections at the end of next month will conclude the 2021 General Election and Samoa’s two major political parties wasted no time shifting into gear in the last throw of the dice to determine the final makeup of the XVII Parliament.
Last Friday the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leadership and its Members went to the Falealili No. 2 constituency to meet with supporters.
Details of the meeting were published in the Sunday 24 October 2021 edition of the Sunday Samoan (H.R.P.P. takes by-election campaign to villages).
The party’s deputy leader and the Anoma’a No. 2 M.P. Fonotoe Pierre told supporters who gathered that they wanted to address the “false promises” and “false accusations”, which they claimed their political rivals Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) have been making.
A day later the F.A.S.T. held its first roadshow after the April polling at Saleaumua as part of its campaign for the by-elections (F.A.S.T. kicks off by-election campaign).
Hundreds of people from the Aleipata-Itupa-i-Lalo constituency gathered at the venue last Saturday to hear the leadership from the new party, which included the party leader Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and party-endorsed candidate Faleomavaega Titimaea Tafua.
(H.R.P.P. initially had 25 seats after the April election which was further reduced to 18 after a number of its victorious Members-elect had their elections annulled following successful Supreme Court-supervised electoral petitions).
The H.R.P.P. has already announced the endorsement of nine candidates for the by-elections with rivals F.A.S.T. signing off on the candidacy of five aspiring legislators including one woman. It is understood the 16-month-old party is in the process of finalising its total candidates with more announcements expected.
Writs for the seven by-elections will be issued this Friday with the nominations opening next Monday and closing next Friday. Pre-polling is scheduled for 24 November 2021 and polling two days later on 26 November 2021.
So what can the voters and the public expect from the by-elections run by the Office of the Electoral Commission (O.E.C.) at the end of next month?
First things first: everyone wants a free and fair by-election, not only for these by-elections but for all our elections now and in the future.
In fact our voters set the gold standard when they participated in the 2021 General Election in early April, only for the leaders in the previous H.R.P.P. government to muddy the waters and cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral system, when they unjustifiably tried to override the results, due to their refusal to concede defeat.
If there is one thing we can learn from that embarrassing episode, we must learn to accept the results from a free and fair election with grace and humility. It will boost our people's belief and confidence in our electoral system.
The findings of the Supreme Court last month from its conduct of the 28 electoral petitions and 27 counter petitions should also be noted and more importantly put into practice, by all the candidates who’ve registered to run in the by-elections next month.
Eleven of the cases went to trial and 17 got withdrawn with four out of the 11 that went to trial resulting in the Members’ election victories declared void due to corrupt practices.
Bribery and treating by candidates was found to be the most common corrupt practice during the April elections, according to the Supreme Court.
The constituencies that recorded the illegal acts included: Faleomavaega Titimaea Tafua (bribery); Faleomavaega Titimaea Tafua (bribery and treating); Falealili No. 2 (bribery and treating); and Sagaga No. 2 (bribery and treating).
The candidates contesting the by-elections for the above-mentioned constituencies have a responsibility next month to restore the reputation of their constituency, by ensuring that their actions in the lead-up to and during and after the by-elections remain above-board and promote free and fair polling.
And having gone through a five-month constitutional crisis which impacted the lives of all citizens in our island nation, there would be uncertainty amongst the public with fears of our political parties engaging in Round 2 of the political upheaval, if results didn’t go one’s way.
Now the responsibility to allay those fears remains with the leaders of the respective parties.
It would be incumbent on the leaders of the H.R.P.P. and the F.A.S.T. taking the lead and promoting peace amongst the voters and party-supporters as we prepare for this last phase of our electoral cycle.
It has been a tumultuous year for everyone with the results of the April election polarising citizens and bringing the country to its knees.
So let us end the year on a good note by adhering to the principles of the rule of law and upholding democratic conventions that are crucial during the by-elections which we can all be proud of.
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