‘Don’t think it’s fair’: Samoa opposition unhappy about voting law changes

Last Friday, Samoa’s government expanded online voting registrations to eligible voters living overseas.

Prior to the electoral amendment, eligible voters could only register in Samoa.

According to Samoan law, an eligible voter is any citizen who has resided in the country.

Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) secretary Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi told RNZ Pacific that components of Samoa’s electoral laws allowing overseas voters to register in elections had been meant for voters who had a residence in Samoa.

“The whole concept is for those Samoans who recently migrated overseas and who still have a house here,” Lealailepule said.

“We are trying to discourage the notion that those Samoan who weren’t born here or who have been away for 20 years or so, should be allowed to vote.”

“We don’t think it’s fair because most of them (Samoans living overseas) are not aware of what’s going on here.”

Former Tautua Samoa MP Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi

The amendments to the electoral laws raised questions about how involved the Samoan diaspora should be with their motherland’s elections.

Samoa’s electoral commissioner Tuiafelolo John Stanley told RNZ Pacific that Samoans would have to travel to Samoa to complete their registration with a biometric test.

He said the law change made it convenient for Samoan citizens based overseas to register to vote.

“Any Samoan citizen who lives overseas is able to apply for registration online, but there are requirements, there are documentations and evidence that you have to provide in order to confirm your birth and that you are a Samoan citizen,” Tuiafelelo said last week.

But Lealailepule said there are other concerns, such as compulsory voting laws, which needed to be resolved in order to make the law practical.

He said opening online registrations to overseas Samoans would make them liable to mandatory voting laws which imposes a SAT100 ($36 USD) fine.

“They said that if you don’t register than don’t come here to Samoa and you won’t get a fine. But what happens if you come back to visit or to go on a holiday or whatever?”, he said.

“They have to clear this issue,” he added.

According to Opposition MP Maulolo Tavita Amosa, 107,000 of 182,000 Samoans living in New Zealand are eligible to vote, raising concerns that the Samoan diaspora could unfairly influence local elections.

Auckland University of Technology Samoan diaspora researcher Dr Dion Enari said there was varied interest among Samoans living in New Zealand.

“There are some Samoans in the diaspora who want to be involved because they want to choose who will be in government,” Enari said.

“Then there are Samoans in the diaspora who don’t want to vote because they feel it should be left to those who live on the islands.”

“There are also those who don’t care to vote at all,” he added.

Samoa’s next general election is expected to take place in April 2026.

Lefaoali'i Dr Dion Enari

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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