Minister Says OEC Cannot Enforce Approved Methods of Campaigning in Electoral Act

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With general elections now only two months away, Minister of Justice Faaolesa Katopau Ainuu says it is not the responsibility of the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (OEC) to enforce provisions of the Electoral Act, that lists approved methods of campaigning for candidates.

Latest amendments to Samoa’s Electoral Act outlines “approved methods of campaigning” under s42, in efforts to move Samoa elections away from what has become a culture of bribery during general elections; where candidates openly give out gifts to voters and conversely, voters flock to request money from candidates for various personal expenses such as school fees, petrol, cash power, food, and general family faalavelave.

For the 2021 general elections, candidates are required by Law to follow strict campaign guidelines set out under S42 of the Electoral Act – which only allows a candidate to put up billboards, give out pamphlets and voice issues through community engagements or media platforms.

Furthermore, and in line with its vision for the people of Samoa to embrace and participate in free and fair elections, the OEC has made purposeful efforts over the past few years to inspire and educate voters, and move Samoa towards voting on issues, encouraging voters to “get to know your candidates”

One of the OEC posters calling on constituents to be responsible voters

In Parliament this week, however, Faatuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party Leader Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt said he was saddened by the stance taken by some Village Councils, to prohibit candidates’ efforts to campaign in the manner set out in the Electoral Act.

Laauli said FAST roadshows aimed at raising public awareness of candidates and  party policies through the distribution of pamphlets, has faced strong opposition by some Village Councils who ordered the removal of roadshows, and the taking down of candidate billboards.

 

“We have already passed the Electoral Act that states; these are things candidates are permitted to do”, said Laauli in Parliament.

“The Law states we are to go out and put up billboards, give out pamphlets, and make known ourselves and our issues,” said Laauli.

Laauli said there is now an unresolved clash between authorities.. where the right of an individual to campaign in accordance with the Law, is being overpowered by communal rights, imposed by Village Councils to stop them.

Laaulialemalietoa: Candidates’ rights to follow approved methods of campaigning being hindered by Village Councils.

“Ia lea lā ua fetoai ai ī, ua taofiofia le aiatatau o le tagata e alu i le palota, ae ua aiā mai le pule mamalu a Alii ma Faipule e taofiofia mea nei i totonu o nuu ma afioaga..”

Laaulialemalietoa added that the FAST Party has advised all candidates affected to keep the peace, to obey Village Council rulings and to take down their billboards.

“Aua le toia le vā, tausi le filemu, afai e finagalo, o ai nuu ma afioaga latou te le talia, ave i lalo.. aua tatou te taufaamatatao, ae saili pea i lalo Malo.”

In response, the Minister of Justice, also Minister for OEC, said there is nothing the Office of the Electoral Commissioner can do about it, nor are they expected to monitor or enforce the Act.

Faaolesa Katopau Ainuu – there is nothing we can do about that.. OEC does not enforce the Law.

“If a candidate comes to lodge a complaint with the Electoral Office, there is nothing we can do about that..”

“The Electoral Act was written with good intentions, but it is up to the people.. there is no expectation that the Office of the Electoral Commissioner shall actually enforce this Law,” said Faaolesa.

“E leai se mea e mafai ona fai iai e le Ofisa o Faigapalota, i mea ia pe afai e faasea mai le sui mamalu i le Ofisa o Faigapalota ma le latou tulafono …

“O le tulafono ia o Faigapalota e mama le auala na fai ai ae leai se aiaiga e o atu le Ofisa o Faigapalota e faamalosia le latou tulafono..

“O lea ua tatala ae tatala a i tagata ma le latou faitalia..ae le o iai se agaga foi lea e faapea e o atu le Ofisa o Faigapalota e faamalosia a latou tulafono..”

The FAST party leader pleaded with the Minister, to consider the situation now faced by candidates who are unable to apply the newly established approved methods of campaigning.. due to Village Councils imposing their collective authority to stop them.

“Where do we draw the line on such matters?” asked Laauli.

“Faaolesa, o le tuualalo lava ia o le tagi a le pumate. Ua uma ona pasia lau tulafono o mea ia e o sui tauva e fai.. faalauiloa, faapipii, talanoa..

“Ao le ā le mea ua tupu? Ua faaoga e Alii ma Faipule mai e Alii ma Faipule le tulafono o le aia toatele.. lea ou te tuualalo atu ai, toe silasila ma vaavaai poo fea e vase ai le laina o mea ia”.

Approved Methods of Campaigning

The approved methods for campaigning under S42(2) of the Electoral Act is in line with the OEC stance to put a stop to election bribery and encourage voters to Get to Know Your Candidate.

In an press release and interview with Savali, Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio acknowledged Village leaders who had stepped up to embrace the new approach to elections.

“There are constituencies who have invited their running candidates to debate on the issues they seek to raise in Parliament and I applaud that. Because that proves the constituency leaders are taking the necessary steps to know who their running candidates are and to be well informed on their policies,” said Faimalomatumua.

S42. Approved methods: (1) A candidate must only use the approved methods of campaigning provided under subsection (2). (2) The approved methods for campaigning are as follows: (a) handing out of pamphlets providing the candidate’s – (i) personal background; and (ii) academic qualifications; and (iii) issues for which he or she supports; (b) use of billboards to provide a pictorial presentation of the candidate and issues of which the candidate wishes to inform the public; or (c) oral or filmed presentations or speeches using any mode of communication available which includes electronic devices. (3) In this section “electronic devices” means any device that can be used to promote a candidate’s message for elections.