Covid Shadow Over Tense Samoan Election
Wellington, April 8 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 8th Apr, 2021 ) :Samoans go to the polls in a Covid-marred election Friday for what is expected to be one of the closest battles yet for longtime prime minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi.
Authorities have imposed a 48-hour ban on alcohol and declared a public holiday as Samoans choose between Malielegaoi, who has led the Pacific island nation for 22 years, and his former ally Fiame Naomi Mataafa, daughter of Samoa's first prime minister.
Christina Laalaai-Tausa, a New Zealand-based Samoan political scientist, said their election chances had been hurt by Covid-imposed travel restrictions and a law that stipulated voters must be in the country for six months prior to the election.
Nearly 130,000 people have registered to cast their ballot in Samoa, and Laalaai-Tausa estimated there were another 40,000-50,000 overseas who have been shut out -- up to a quarter of the population.
"This is usually the time we return to Samoa but we haven't been able to do anything about that," she told AFP.
"This will have a big impact on both the main parties but what it would seem the newly formed (FAST) party would have more support overseas.
" The vote is the first significant challenge to Malielegaoi's Human Rights Protection Party, which has been in power for nearly four decades.
Mataafa also rejected a new law which she said would worsen corruption, leading Malielegaoi to accuse her of treason.
"I am not worried and I am confident," he said in a radio interview.
A decision to ban the sale of alcohol on Thursday and Friday, and to make both days a holiday, was "a safeguard to ensure the safety of voters and candidates," political scientist Laalaai-Tausa said, adding there was no history of trouble around Samoan elections.
"But trying to restrict bribery before an election is a concern."Samoa had been one of several Pacific nations among the most successful in the world at keeping out the virus after closing their borders early in response to the threat, despite the huge cost to tourism-reliant economies. It registered its first case in November.