What will Samoa ever do without him?
It’s fair to say that this is the million-tala-question right now as Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi leads the nation in what could well be one of his last terms in Parliament.
But then should he decide to continue forever, he definitely can. After all, who wants to leave when a party you are leading is doing so well?
You see in March last year, the Human Rights Protection Party enjoyed another landslide victory in the General Election. It was perhaps the H.R.P.P’s most impressive election victory in history, completely annihilating the opposition party.
But that wasn’t the only feature. Three of more than 20 women candidates won seats with Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa making up four women in Parliament. Another woman was added to take the number of seats in Parliament to 50.
Tuilaepa, since 1998, has been the driving force behind the H.R.P.P’s success.
But don’t say this is a one party state. In his victory speech, Tuilaepa maintained that the H.R.P.P’s total dominance is democracy at work.
“As leader, and on behalf of the Human Rights Protection Party, I would like to extend my gratitude to all of Samoa for the support, and the overwhelming vote of confidence in our vision for this country,” he said.
“I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge and commend the Leadership of the Opposition, the Tautua Party. This has not been an easy journey, and I congratulate you for the commitment and effort to representing your constituency and your party with such dedication.”
Tuilaepa also acknowledged those that did not pull through.
“My sympathy goes out to the Members of Parliament, especially the Cabinet Ministers who have been unsuccessful in retaining their seats,” he said.
“They deserve our thanks for their commitment and hard work to meet the needs of their constituents, as well as fulfilling their duties and service as Cabinet Ministers.”
“But that is the nature of elections. You can only do your best, and hope that voters will choose you again. But as we see time and again, it’s often unpredictable.”
“Looking at the results, about half of Parliament’s seats are going to change. This is democracy at work.”
Tuilaepa said the support shown for the H.R.P.P proves that the country trusts their leadership.
“H.R.P.P. has been leading Samoa for a very long time and there are many developments done during that time. The country is mindful of it.”
As if they needed another blow, the wounded Opposition party copped one from Tuilaepa who said the Tautua Party dug a hole for itself due to the negligence of its leaders.
He recalled that looking back in the past five years, people have been taking notes about the work by the Opposition in and outside parliament.
“Take for example the debates in Parliament,” he said.
“You have to follow the procedures which means your statements should be guided by your understanding of the Standing Orders. That is one major failure of the Opposition…they did not have a strategy and did not have a plan.”
On the occasion where the members were not confusing themselves, no one intervened during their time on the floor in parliament, Tuilaepa said.
The Prime Minister added that the government cannot just sit around and allow the Tautua to make false statements in Parliament.
As for the H.R.P.P, Tuilaepa said the key is engagement with votes and people in the rural communities.
“What we did from the beginning is that we go out in the rural areas and talk to people about our candidates for general election,” the Prime Minister said.
As for claims about bribery and election votes being bought with money and chicken legs, he said this is not a new issue.
“There were briberies from 1982 and that is why we amended the Act to prevent it from influencing the decision by the voters,” he said.
“This is another big task that we dealt with to stop bribery during election period. We amended the law to stop the o’o (traditional presentation) from taking place and that it is only allowed after 12 months of election.”
Tuilaepa is also adamant that his government is not a dictatorship.
He maintained there is nothing to worry about and there is nothing they can do if the public have expressed their desire through their vote.
“Even though there are not enough opposition (M.Ps), four is enough,” he said.
“What can we do if this is what the country wants? If there is no Opposition, then the other members from our side can speak as Opposition members.There are many ways to skin a cat.”
He assured that there are checks and balance mechanisms in place to ensure that does not happen in Samoa.
“That is not new. In this political party, there are intense internal discussions about all matters,” he said. “There is a check and balance that cannot be taken away. What you have to remember is when you talk about good governance, transparency and accountability, those are always the bait used by oppositions.”
- See page 12 for Tuilaepa’s New Year message.