Samoans head to the polls today in what is shaping up as the country’s closest election in four decades, and the diaspora community in Australia is playing an important role – despite the fact they can’t vote.
Unlike many countries, Samoa does not offer absentee ballots for citizens overseas. However, the rejuvenated opposition Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party, under the leadership of former deputy prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, has mobilised a flood of donations into its coffers.
According to FAST’s Australian organiser, Lilomaiava Flo Sa’aga, Samoan communities in Australia, New Zealand and the United States have donated more than $825,000 to FAST’s election campaign.
“The Samoan diaspora community knows that they can’t vote from overseas, so they are looking for a party that supports their vision,” Ms Sa’aga said. “It is probably the first time the Samoan diaspora has realised that they… have a voice [back home in Samoa, and that] there are people in Samoa who are ready to listen.”
Donations have been channelled through crowdfunding websites, innovating political campaigning in the country, and facilitated FAST’s nationwide ‘Roadshow’ campaign to school halls and churches.
Having run a strong campaign, FAST is more competitive than any opposition for decades, however, the task ahead remains considerable. The governing Human Rights Protection Party, which has held office since 1982, has kept Samoa COVID-19-free throughout the pandemic, due to a decisive border closure policy. Only four cases have been detected in Samoa, which has recorded no community transmission.
Maualaivao Maima Koro, an apolitical analyst of Samoan and Tokelau heritage said despite donations from abroad, Samoans will mark the government highly for its pandemic management.
“The government’s decision to snap-close borders at the beginning of the pandemic has been vindicated from a health standpoint, and people appreciate that,” Ms Koro said.
Main picture shows Apia, the capital city of Samoa. (Photo: Jason Argo/Creative Commons)