Samoa election with record number of women candidates
On Friday 4th of March Samoans go to the polls and this comes after campaigns that showed the political life in the country is changing.
The upcoming general election in Samoa has seen more women candidates than ever before, candidates finding new ways to campaign while avoiding social gatherings, and a disheartening response from young people.
Changes to electoral laws are thought to be behind what's being described as a big change of mood in the lead up to the March 4 general election.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
Of the close to 170 candidates contesting the election, 24 are women. In the previous 2011 election, there were just 9 female candidates. Women's leadership advocate, Papalii Viopapa Annandale, says it's encouraging to see so many more women contesting the general election this year. She says the movement towards ensuring greater women's representation in Samoa has been ongoing for years, but has recently taken off.
PAPALII VIOPAPA ANNANDALE: I think it's a very healthy development, I think it's very encouraging that so many more women are running this time. There's been, I think over the last several few years, a greater awareness by women, or let's say a stimulus to women, to take that challenge. I think the amendment to the constitution has contributed to that.
In 2013 the constitution was changed to reserve five seats, or l0 percent, of the 49 seats in parliament for women. Papalii Viopapa Annandale says while that move hasn't been universally popular, people's attitudes and perceptions towards women's place in society is changing slightly.
PAPALII VIOPAPA ANNANDALE: It's going towards the direction in which it will make it easier and possible for more women to be recognised as being partners in helping develop our country.
Our correspondent, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, says stricter campaigning laws have also meant candidates have approached campaigning very differently this year, by avoiding a number of social events.
AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: In the past elections, there were quite a number of social activities, people would say oh, this candidate in the community is having a booze with some youth in the village, or the rugby team, because they are voters. But looking at the decisions in the last general elections, a number of allegations of bribery arose from that kind of activity.
Under the amendment, there can no longer be traditional presentations of food, money and fine mats by the sitting MPs and election candidates. The acting electoral commissioner, Faimalotumua Mathew Lemisio, says feedback from candidates shows the awareness campaigns they've been running on this have had an impact.
FAIMALOTUMUA MATHEW LEMISIO: Some cultural and social activities that they don't have any relation to, they felt like it's a risk for them to participate and it might be perceived by some people as bribery, and that's the feedback that we've been getting and from our perspective I think that shows that some of the work that we're doing is actually getting the message across.
Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia says as a result, people have started to campaign in a way that, for Samoa, is quite different.
AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: You see so many posters, photos, and all the campaign slangs [slogans] for support for these candidates. I think it's something very new to us, even though it was seen in the last general election, but only small posters. But this time you can see the big photos of the candidates beside the road in different villages."
Faimalotumua Mathew Lemisio says while interest in the elections is generally intensifying, unfortunately thousands of young voters appear to have failed to register. He says they are yet to finalise the numbers, but very few of those born in the years 1990 to1995 have registered.
FAIMALOTUMUA MATHEW LEMISIO: It's really disheartening, because we've been working with a lot of young people over the years, the past couple of years and when that number came out, it's a bit disappointing. So you know, our hands are now tied and our only option is to now turn to the law. We're heading towards 10,000, and that's quite a significant number of unregistered voters.
He says once they have finalised the list of those who have not registered to vote, they will refer it to the national prosecution office for advice on whether to lay charges. There are about 116,000 people registered to vote, and those not registered could face fines of up to US $1,500. Samoa will go to the polls on March 4.
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