Call for overseas Samoans to vote
The former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, has revived a call for Samoans living abroad and eligible to vote, to cast ballots in next year’s General Election.
Tui Atua, who is also a former Prime Minister and Opposition leader, made the point during a press conference at his Tuaefu residence on Friday, where he reminded that remittances (or money sent by Samoans living overseas) continues to be the lifeblood of the Samoan economy.
Figures from the 2018-2019 Financial Year show that Samoa collected more than $530 million in remittances. That accounts for a 10 per cent increase from the previous financial year.
To recognise the development of Samoa through those remittances, Tui Atua said it is time the Government consider giving those Samoans the opportunity to cast their votes. He said the Government couldn’t continue to deny the rights of those living abroad who provide security to their relatives in Samoa
“How do you reciprocate such love?” Tui Atua asked.
“Samoan people continue to show this love every day to their families and you have seen it with millions pouring in the country.
“In my opinion, is there a reason why we cannot reciprocate this love or do we just accept the good and not return this love that can recognise our people and their service…how do you counter that love?”
The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has previously dismissed such calls, saying Samoans living abroad are still able to vote if they fly to Samoa to cast their votes.
But Tui Atua disagrees. He said travel would be costly and those living abroad would find it problematic to travel back to the island to vote.
The former Head of State said the Government’s opposition to granting them voting rights was politically motivated.
He questioned why the Government makes it easier for New Zealanders and Australians to participate in their general elections through special votes overseas but the same rights are not extended to Samoans abroad.
“Look at the numbers [remittances] and how do you counter that to recognise their service?” he said.
“How many years have we had millions [from remittances] but we do not open up the opportunity to them [Samoans abroad] to vote if they support [Government] or not.
“There are many families who rely overseas for school fees and many other small things but that is the question how do we recognise that support from them over many years.”
Asked why this was not done during his tenure as the former Prime Minister, Tui Atua said he believes it was not a pressing issue at the time.
He said those days were different from the modern time where millions are received by families through remittances.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the Prime Minister regularly leads events that seek monetary assistance from overseas.
“If you find help from them why don’t you recognise their voices in decision making for the Government and the country,” he said.
“Tell us what is your tradition and custom of why you now deny this exchange of love…”
In the past, Prime Minister Tuilaepa had assured eligible Samoan voters living abroad that they will not be denied their rights to vote.
Speaking about the issue of opening the electoral rolls for overseas Samoans to cast their ballots as absentee voters in 2018, Tuilaepa said he would not set any precedent when it comes to absentee voting.
“The same issue was presented to past Prime Ministers since we gained Independence in 1962 and they remained firm,” he said at the time.
“So who am I but a meagre servant of the people to change that?”
The Prime Minister said he is also aware of Government critics who continue to raise what he described as ‘false hope’, by appealing to the emotions of voters using private remittances as an argument to introduce absentee voting.
“It’s no secret that private remittances play a pivotal role in the development of our country,” he said.
“But critics are oblivious and blinded to the fact the remittances are a direct cash injection to families and relatives here.
“The truth of the matter is our families here are reaping the fruits of their overseas relatives’ hard labour from their private remittances and not the Government.”
Tuilaepa went on to say that money transferred over is directly utilised by families for their faalavelave (family business), to build new homes, buy cars, pay for their day to day necessities and even pay for their children’s education.
“For the critics to play with the emotions of voters is a conniving ploy,” he said.
“I caution them that their schoolyard election tactics will backfire and will further aid their downfall.”