By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA: Heavy rain, strong lightning and thunder last night did not budge the Electoral Commissioners office to open the gates to allow hundreds locked outside when the closing time struck at 4pm.
But not until a senior police officer made the call to open the gate and let the cold and wet people inside the Tupulaga Talavou complex to be registered.
The police officer used strong words and told the officers and security guards to use common sense when he realized that the situation was not getting any better.
It was between 8.00pm and 9.00pm and people were still locked outside the gate since the 4.00pm cut off time for registration.
The Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio stuck to the law and closed the gate and complete to register only those already inside the building.
It was a chaotic scene calling for a better system not helped by voters who left registration to the last minute. The final days of voters registration had to be moved from the Electoral Commissioners office at the SNPF Plaza that proved too small to cope with the numbers.
And nobody cared anymore about Governments inconsistent policing and application of social distancing rules under the State of Emergency Orders.
Casualties of shoving and pushing
The Tupulaga Hall was already alive with voters streaming in to register at 5.00am yesterday morning. By the time the office opened, it was already packed inside and the crowd building up outside the hall.
Then the pushing and shoving started until the glass doors got broken and people used the dangerous opening to get inside. Others tried to get in through the windows.
With no space to move, people pushing from the back, and a lack of fresh air, people started fainting.
One emergency personnel told the media that his team took at least 10 people including those who received injuries from the broken glasses, to the hospital.
Last minute rush should be factored in the Electoral Office plan
The scene was described by Apulu Veronika Matautia Molio’o Mortenson as “very sad”
She says the last minute rush to register voters has been evident in past elections and a response should have been anticipated and sorted out.
“It is very sad, 100’s of Samoans out here since early morning, maybe it is a last minute rush but that’s the nature of people, and with due respect to the office of the Electoral Commission, they should have factored the last minute rush into their planning,” she said.
“There are lots of lessons learnt from this that can improve the way forward in the future.”
People waiting for candidate to bring them in
The Government village representative for Toamua, Inailau Vaine Palamo Esera blamed the last minute rush to voters waiting for their candidates to bring them in.
She said she and the village mayor have been knocking doors and informing people to register. The same problem was also noted by the mayors of Siumu, Luatuanuu and Vaoala.
There were also complaints that the Electoral Office failed to follow through their own instructions for families to hang a white cloth outside their houses if they have unregistered voters.
Families waited for the door to door service to register voters but no one turned up.
Breach of State Of Emergency orders
The State of Emergency (SOE) order went out the window for the last three days as people rushed in to avoid a $2000 penalty if not registered.
When Faimalomatumua was asked about it, he challenged the media to see if social distancing can be implemented in such a situation.
The scene was chaotic. The last minute rush, the hordes of people pushing to register, and even spilling onto the main Mulinu’u road outside. The scene represents the lack of a proper system and control to a problem that occurs this time before every general election.