The democratisation paradigm in the Pacific is an ongoing topic of discussion within the political arena. It is a significant point of debate and analysis at the local, regional and international level.
For Samoa, its 2021 election results seem to have indicated a seismic shift in the evolution of its democracy. But is the change real or a facade?
The Samoan people went to the polls on April 9 to decide on who would lead the country for a five-year term.
The incumbent Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) were hopeful of securing fourth decade in power, led by Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi who was seeking his 23rd year as prime minister.
Seeking to unseat the government were parties including Tautua, Samoa First, Samoa National Democratic Party (SNDP), and FAST (Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi). FAST was led by former HRPP member Laaulialemalietoa Polataivao Schmidt and was later joined by three other former HRPP members, including Fiame Naomi Mata'afa who currently leads the party and could be Samoa’s first female Prime Minister in its 60-year-old democracy.
This year’s election saw 128,848 people over the age of 21 register to cast their vote for the 51 seats in parliament, reflective of the 51 electoral constituencies in the country. An analysis of the polling results shows that 69% voted while 30% failed to have their voice heard, despite four days of pre-polling prior to the actual election day.
People threw support behind two major parties. HRPP received 38% of the votes and the newly-formed FAST party racked up 25%, while 6% was split between Tautua, other smaller parties and independent candidates.
The numbers indicate that although there was strong and effective campaigning, particularly from the FAST party, there was still scepticism heading into the election, with many perhaps believing that HRPP could never be challenged.
As the country awaited results on Friday April 9, preliminary results revealed a deadlock with HRPP winning 25 seats from the 105 candidates that were fielded and FAST with 25 seats from their 52 candidates, with 15 of them from the 20 constituencies in Savaii - Samoa's largest island.
To the shock of many, this event challenged the dominance of the HRPP and created electoral history in the country. While locked at 25 seats each, to achieve a majority and its 51 members both parties needed one more seat, which came in the form of an independent member who became kingmaker.
For over a week, which party Tuala Ponifasio would choose to align himself with was the intense focus of Samoan politics. But the announcement of his decision to join FAST, which would have meant victory for Fiame Naomi Mata'afa and FAST, was nixed. The Samoa Electoral Commission issued a notice signed by the head of state announcing the addition of a six female member of parliament, stating that the constitution requires 10% female representation in parliament to be fulfilled, despite five female members having won their seats already.
Samoa was thus plunged into a second deadlock, where it remains while the case is in the hands of the Supreme Court, pending a ruling on whether the appointment was legal and within the parameters of the constitution.
But in another bizarre twist, on the eve of the court ruling, the head of state announced that due to public disquiet and the political impasse, Samoa was required to return to the polls for a fresh election, robbing Samoa for the second time within a month of its democracy. A second election is supposed to be held on May 21.