Meet the Politicians
Life is pretty exciting right now, since it is election time. It is a different kind of buzz than the elections I am used to in America. For many months now the politicians have been campaigning, and campaigning consists of putting up posters, especially if you are in the Apia area, I have seen one person with a television commercial, but most of all, it is what you can give to the people. Politicians spend a fortune bribing the communities for their votes. They hand out money, or buy things for the village. I talked with someone who works with the Graduate Program at the National University of Samoa, and she was able to use the campaigning to get scholarships for two of her students that didn’t have the money to attend university. Because of the bribery for votes, and campaigning, only the extremely wealthy can afford to run for office. I was told they have to expect to spend $1,000-$2,000 tala. A sum that seems unheard of to me!
I have not seen much of the campaigning in my village, but I also did not go out specifically to look for it. I talked with a teacher at the college, and she said she hadn’t been bribed by any of the candidates so she will vote with whoever might be the best. (Something that I wish most people would do.) She mentioned to me that it was stupid to vote based on the bribes since the politicians will only give you something before the election, and afterwards you are out of luck.
On Sunday, while I was heading back to Savai’i from Upolu, I saw a familiar face at the wharf. It was a man from my village that was running for office. I had seen his name with the 5others that were running from our district on television the previous week. I asked him how the election was going, and he told me he had resigned from the race the previous Friday. It was sad to see that there was going to be no representative from our village, but I can see the financial burden the race was putting on him, as it does for everyone else. He also informed me that since he was the first one to drop out of the race, he was offered a government job. (I am sure this played a big part in stepping down as well.)
When I arrived in Salelologa, I noticed that all of the busses to the north shore were there, but the busses to my district and the one after mine had not appeared. I was not worried, as my bus is often late….but I began to realize that there were only a few of us waiting, and after awhile, we realized that that would mean the bus was not going to be coming.
“Shucks!” I thought, since I really did not want to pay for a cab, but paying for a cab is cheaper than paying for a hotel for the night….especially since if I stayed in Salelologa I would miss the following day’s work.
Then a man in a taxi called out to me, and asked which village I lived in, and offered me a lift in his taxi. He asked me about the other lone person waiting, and I told him it was a person from the village next to mine. The man was also instructed to come inside.
In the taxi I learned that the man was coming back to his village to run for election. He had lived for many years in America, and his children were still there. He told me that he had come back to Samoa to see that important changes were made. He cares and loves his country and does not want to see some of the problems that they have continue.
Throughout the ride, it was very interesting to hear from him. I never really had the chance to sit down with a politicians and given free reign over questions to ask him. (Unless you include high school president, or someone from University…)
We stopped at a store, which is a normal trend on a Sunday. I was happy since I was able to buy bread for my family, and the politician had the same idea. He bought at least 20 loaves of bread to hand out to his family. (I think some of this is part of the bribery..) He then went one step further, and bought us all big ice cream cones. All of us, including the cab driver, were extremely happy with our ride.
My lesson learned from the day, if you are ever going to get stuck somewhere, it is always best to have a politician nearby to help you out.
On a side note, I asked questions and learned how election day is here. In my village, voting takes place at the Methodist pastor’s house. (Other villages have it take place at the schools, or Woman’s Committee House, it depends on the village.) They do not have the electronic voting machines, or punch outs of holes. Instead they are given a slip of paper and tick off the name of who they are voting for. They then fold the paper and put it in a locked box.
I hope to learn more about election day as I see it in action on Friday.