Samoan academic overwhelmed by election result

Samoan academic Associate Professor Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa says he is overwhelmed with the outcome of Samoa’s 2021 General Election and how the parties campaigned in the lead-up to polling.

Toeolesulusulu, who is the University of Auckland Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific), told Tagata Pasifika last Friday that he didn’t envisage the election outcome being so close and the campaign styles including celebrity endorsements and the emergence of a powerful opposition leader were hallmarks not seen since the 1980s.

Asked why there was a seismic shift among the voters in terms of party support, the academic said there were a number of factors; including constitutional changes promulgated by the Human Rights Protection Party-led Government; and how the country was governed especially in relation to the 2019 measles epidemic.

He said all these issues were factors behind the Lotofaga MP Fiame Naomi Mataafa exiting the then ruling party and the Government.

Toeolesulusulu added that when Fiame left the Government all of a sudden there was a “viable, credible, persuasive opposition leader” for the first time in a long time in Samoa.

The role of Samoans living abroad in the general election was also raised by Tagata Pasifika in its interview with the academic saying it was pivotal, despite the fact that they were not able to vote in the election.

And while restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for Samoans abroad to vote, Toeolesulusulu said their contribution in terms of fundraising was helpful to what he described as a “new style of campaign”.

When asked what is going through the minds of Samoa’s leaders right now, Toeolesulusulu added that there is going to be a lot of pressure on one person.

He added that whoever is going to be the next Prime Minister will face a situation where there is one seat majority which could change easily, coupled with Samoa’s economic downturn brought on by the collapse of the tourism sector.

"And then if its Fiame we are going to see for the first time that the Samoan public service is going to transition, the first time essentially since the 1980s there's been a change in Government and we haven't seen how well Samoa transitioned so we all have to be really good citizens of Samoa transnationally and locally and support whoever comes in next,” Toeolesulusulu told Tagata Pasifika.

“But particularly that transition which is difficult as we saw in the U.S. it's difficult in New Zealand but it's going to be particularly challenging for a public service that hasn't had a new government in anyone's living memory.”

Toeolesulusulu then mentioned Independent Member-elect Tuala Tevaga Ponifasio, whose vote will break the 25-seat tie by the HRPP and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, saying the M.P. talked about change which he says people are reading as change in a certain direction as there is only one party of change but added it is anyone's guess.

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