Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Samoan Democracy

Aeo’ainuu Aleki touched on a key issue in Monday’s commentary column tofasunshine.as. It was about the selection of senators to the Fono, which has come under criticism lately for not being subject to the people’s vote. Instead, Senators are elected through the fa’asamoa in the district councils. While the article makes plenty of valid points, there is a major misconception.

Aeo’ainuu points out that “the selection of Senate members was not according to a rule of democracy.” While candidates to the Senate are not put on a ballot per se, we shouldn’t rob the fa’asamoa of its own democratic principles. Families elect matai’s who represent their respective clans in the village council. Village councils elect representatives to the district councils, and the district councils elect our senators. If that’s not democracy then I don’t know what is.

Samoa has had a long history of this democracy before European contact was made. Our ancestors also did just as good of a job as America’s founding fathers in limiting centralized power. The kings of old Samoa practically had no political powers within the villages. Every village was considered politically autonomous (still true to this day), and because of this fact, the powers of kings and paramount chiefs over people’s everyday lives were severely limited.

Aeo’ainuu seems to suggest that democracy is a western value and not a Samoan one by saying, “Perhaps, [criticism of the fa’asamoa senate selection process] arises from prejudicial thinking that places Samoan tradition and culture in a subordinate role to western values.” Aeo’ainuu is mistaken as the critics are by not recognizing that Samoan tradition and culture and western values are the same in the sense that they all revolve around democracy as a central theme.

The values of democracy and individual rights do not belong to anyone nor do they originate from a certain hemisphere of this globe. They come from above and they are inherent to every individual. The fa'asamoa has just expressed these values in a different manner and to some extent, a lesser degree. But the same is true of today’s America, where individuals’ and enterprises’ rights and liberties are still being trampled on by government.

What is more important than how senators are elected is ensuring that their powers do not extend beyond their charter granted to them by our constitutions and that their actions do not infringe on the people’s rights.

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