Reduce voting age to 18: Samoa Election inquiry

Photo: Office of the Electoral Commission Samoa

A Commission of Inquiry (COI) has recommended Samoa lower its voting age from 21 to 18 so teens can cast their votes like their peers in the region. 

The recommendation calling for Samoa’s voting age to be reduced is part of the findings and recommendations of a COI which investigated the 2021 General Election and produced a report which is now before a parliamentary committee for deliberation. 

“The student’s sense of responsibility and their outlook on life was reflected in the way they organised and conducted themselves as a group to discuss and then confidently voice their concerns,” reads the COI report. “The majority supported voting at 18 joining most of their peers in other Pacific countries except Nauru and Tonga.” 

In Nauru, you have to be 20 years and older in order to vote, while Tonga is the same as Samoa which only allows those 21 years and over to vote. 

Some of the challenges noted by the COI is that most adults presume the parents of youths did not support their children being eligible to vote at 18 years of age. The reason given during public consultation by the COI team pointed to the parents’ protection of their children, whom they saw as being too young and immature. Others were concerned about the age group becoming corrupted by the campaigning pressure and influence of the general election.

But the COI report referred to the age of 18 as being progressively recognised by the law for over 60 years in other jurisdictions to be eligible for most adult entitlements and obligations. It noted that at the age of 17, you can acquire a driver’s licence, an individual can get married legally at 18, make a will, register as an adult and be charged as an adult, be employed and receive wages and pay tax.

According to projections highlighted in the COI report, there will be additional 18-year-old voters in 2026 numbering over 9,000 new voters to add to Samoa’s eligible voting population, if those aged 18 and above are given the approval to vote in 2026. 

In its recommendation, the COI suggested lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 so Samoa’s youth and young citizens can exercise their constitutional rights. This would also place them alongside most of their peers in the Pacific region to vote at the next general election to select Samoa’s political leaders. 

The COI also recommended the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) improve curriculum content in democracy and good governanced and strengthen political awareness of teachers and students through collaboration with the Office of Electoral Commission and their strategy for electoral information dissemination. 

The COI report has been tabled in Parliament and referred to Parliamentary Committee for their review and to report back to the Legislative Assembly. The recommendations from the Commission have not been approved and are yet to be debated in the House. 

Meanwhile, The Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Chairman says supporters and the nation should “not be misled” by media coverage of a Commission of Inquiry’s findings of the 2021 General Election.

Speaking during the Soalepule programme, which was live-streamed on the EFKS TV2, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt said that at this stage the contents of the report are only “recommendations”. 

He asked the public and party supporters to be patient and allow the report to go through the proper process and made reference to a story published by the Samoa Observer last week on the voting rights of overseas-based Samoans. 

The recommendation that came out of the COI report was not in line with what the ruling party promised their supporters in their pre-election campaign and manifesto prior to the 2021 polling. 

At that time the leadership of the FAST announced that they would allow the diaspora to vote from wherever they reside during a general election in Samoa if the party formed the government. 

La’auli then reaffirmed the party’s position on the issue and said that they will deliver whatever promises they made in their party manifesto. 

He also criticised the Opposition Leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi for discussing the report and its recommendations when it had not been deliberated on in Parliament. 

The report of the COI, which was appointed by the Cabinet, was tabled in Parliament in June this year and is currently before the Standing Orders Parliamentary Committee for review before they make a submission to Parliament for deliberation. 

La’auli said while he respects the members of the COI who compiled the report following the 2021 General Elections, he said the contents of its report are not final. 

He said the Legislative Assembly has the final say, claiming that the coverage of the report has caused confusion amongst the public, and prompted supporters to question the ruling party on the promises they made during the election. 

Turning to Tuilaepa, La’auli said it was disappointing to see that he is the one exposing and starting the discussions on the report when it has not been finalised or deliberated in parliament. 

“That was one of the things that irked him during his time in office,” La’auli said. “It was when the local newspaper (Samoa Observer) started reporting on the contents of reports that have not been finalised or deliberated in Parliament. 

“He used to criticise the paper for it and spoke against the publication of any report before it is tabled and deliberated in Parliament. But it seems like he is the one starting the conversations and discussions of the report. 

“It’s like that saying, do as I say not as I do. He was so vocal against the paper but is now constantly writing and publishing letters with the same newspaper (Samoa Observer).” La’auli then appealed to the public to be calm and patient and allow for the due process to be completed, in relation to the findings of the COI and its report with its recommendations.