Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Undue influence in Samoa

In New Zealand, as in other modern democracies, we take certain things for granted. Notably, that if you vote for someone at an election, you won't be punished for it afterwards. Not so in Samoa. There, they have established a culture of exacting political revenge on people who vote the "wrong" way, using the powers of the Village Fono Act to fine or even banish those who back a different candidate from village authorities. And its not just the ruling Human Rights Protection party which does this - the new opposition Tautua Samoa Party has now got into the act:

A family of a high chief in Samoa in Asau village on Savaii island has been banished for not voting for the village’s defeated candidate.

In the election earlier this month, the high chief, Masoe Selota, and his family reportedly voted for the opposition Tautua Samoa party leader, Vaai Papu Vaai, from the neighboring village of Vaisala.

However, the newspaper Le Week-ender says the family is yet to leave.

The village chiefs’ special committee is still to investigate who had not voted for the candidate of the ruling HRPP party, Tufuga Gafoaleata Faitua, who is also a high ranking orator.

Back the wrong candidate, get kicked out of your home. Its exactly the sort of abuse the secret ballot was brought in to prevent - but the village chiefs don't violate ballot secrecy AFAIK; they just rely on gossip and hearsay as "evidence". It also seems to be a classic example of undue influence, which is a corrupt practice in Samoa as well as New Zealand. But no village council ever gets prosecuted for it, despite the flagrant violation of the law and abuse of basic democratic rights. That has to change. People must be free to cast their votes without fear of revenge, and the state has to protect them - otherwise democracy is just a facade for thuggery.