SAMOA OBSERVER – By Marc Membrere, 11/04/2021
The Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Pacific at the University of Auckland, Toeolesulusulu Dr. Damon Salesa, says Friday’s elections have been a historic milestone for Samoa but also the region.
Elections commenced with pre-polling for the elderly, persons with disabilities, and essential workers from Monday to Thursday, while all other voters cast their votes on Friday,09 April.
Toeolesulusulu talked about the Samoan General Elections on the TVNZ Breakfast and spoke about the many factors determining the yet-to-be-determined result.
“So in my sort of adult lifetime most Samoans have only ever known one Prime Minister, everyone just calls him ‘Palemia’,” Toeolesulusulu said.
“I mean he’s a powerful figure, probably the defining figure of Samoan history since its independence and for the first time we have got a viable challenger who of course as you pointed out was his former deputy,”
Toeolesulusulu noted that the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party had introduced a new kind of campaigning in Samoa, for which support from Samoans in New Zealand was essential.
He also noted the party’s use of social media, Facebook in particular to reach many people.
“They’re campaigning, they’re putting up billboards,” he said.
As an Associate Professor of Pacific Studies, Toeolesuluslu said New Zealand should be watching this election closely.
“It’s probably one of the most important elections New Zealand has ever seen,” he said.
Toeolesulusulu was then asked by Cambell if FAST could cross over the line to form Government and the academic responded by saying it was a live possibility.
“I think she is such a powerful influence. I think also something very strange happens in Samoa where a party, the HRPP the current Government has multiple candidates in many constituencies so they actually split their own vote and so I think yeah having a consolidated party ticket, we haven’t really seen that in Samoa where you cross all the constituencies, you have a kind of platform, you have policies announced and you have a strong leader and so I think we don’t know how that plays in Samoa until really today,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Professor who hoped Samoa would get a viable opposition this election has had his dreams fulfilled, something he says is something of a miracle.
Adjunct Professor Leasiolagi Dr Malama Meleisea, Centre for Samoan Studies Director in the National University of Samoa said the faint hope he had for Samoa’s democracy is getting brighter, with at least 25 constituencies putting their vote behind a brand-new party.
According to preliminary figures, Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party have won 25 out of 51 seats in Parliament, less than a year after it was first formed.
The incumbent political inveterate party, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has lost its immense majority and appears to have won 25 seats too.
The balance hangs on the Independent winner in Savaii, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, who after losing his first two attempts to enter Parliament, has for now won with nearly double the number of votes of his nearest opponent.
Leasiolagi, a political historian, said today’s situation is markedly different to any political upsets from years gone by.
This year’s election has resulted in the first genuine mix of political parties, he said, who have been campaigning on, and were voted for based on policy rather than personality.
“The faint hope I had for democracy is now not faint anymore,” he said.
“It seems that people have cast their votes, for whatever reason and for whoever encouraged them. I am happy democracy seems to be working well.”
After 40 years of an HRPP Government and more than 20 years of it led by the same Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielgaoi, it is Leasiolagi’s opinion that much of population was getting tired of the way the party weaves its narrative.
He said the party, running the country on its own with little to no opposition, was beginning to be accepted as normal by the country.
“There were times, I must admit, that I got terribly down,” he said.
“I was so happy that people could […] make a statement that they didn’t support the narrative and the way the narrative was presented.
“It augurs well in the long run and I am happy to be here right now at this point in time.”
While neither FAST nor HRPP have been able to declare a victory over the election results, Leasiolagi believes the newcomer has won, and should get to form a government.
He said he would be extremely surprised if Tuala did not partner with FAST to do so, and that he suspects Tuala’s district would be surprised and unhappy too.
But HRPP will not go with out a fight, Leasiolagi, suspects, although he believes it would be politically wiser to do so.
“I am hoping they’ll say ‘okay, we’ve had our 25, 30 years of being at the front row and let’s see what the other lot can do.’
“But I think if democracy in Samoa is to thrive, HRPP should be doing that. The last thing they want to do at this point is to be bad sportsmen and women.
“I don’ think they can afford to be obstructive and get angry and all that. Politically, they would be wise to sit back and see what happens.”
After the weeks of counting, certifying, petitioning, and negotiating is up, a new group of Parliamentarians will drive down Mulinuu Peninsula and begin the work of the Legislative Assembly.
If the victory does indeed go to FAST as Leasiolagi predicts it will, HRPP will run the opposition benches for the first time since entering Parliament.
And as a “viable opposition,” Leasiolagi says the HRPP crop, especially the returning members who were Ministers and Associate Ministers, should come in on the front foot.
With their wealth of information, data and experience from the last decades in power, HRPP members should be ready to be “efficient” in the role, he said.
“One hopes that would give them the kind of material they need to be effective opposition.
“I am hoping they will provide very strong opposition. The onus is up to the FAST people to try and deal with that,” he said.
SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS