It’s official. The former Whip of the Tautua Samoa Party, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, has switched political parties for the upcoming General Elections.
One of the ‘worst kept secrets’ in town was finally confirmed on Friday when the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) met at their headquarters to announce their candidates.
Speaking to the Sunday Samoan, Leala, the incumbent Member of Parliament for Faleata West, said as the representative of his people, he must follow what his constituents want. And what they want is for him to be more involved with the development of the country, ending 10 years as an Opposition M.P.
So on Thursday, Leala met with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi where he indicated his willingness to run for the H.R.P.P. The request was immediately accepted.
“I am grateful to the Prime Minister for accepting me and for trusting me to join their party,” said Leala.
But the former Tautua Party M.P. said he did not just abandon the Tautua. He said he met with leader, Palusalue Fa’apo II, who has given him his blessings.
“I went and talked to Palu and members of the Tautua Party after meeting with Tuilaepa,” he said. “I discussed with him why I had to switch parties and he understood my reasons. He gave me his blessings.”
Leala said there was no bad blood between him and the Tautua.
“We parted ways in good terms,” he said.
“I am not switching because of any disagreements among members of Tautua and myself. No, my decision is based on what I know is best for me and my constituency.”
Leala added that he believes he has made the right decision.
“I am doing this for the betterment of my constituency,” he said. “I have been advised by my supporters to make this decision. I believe this is the best decision not only for my constituency but also for me.”
For the past 10 years, Leala said he has contributed to the development of Samoa by poking holes in government policies and pointing out where they can be improved.
However, this time round and if he is successful after March, he wants to become more involved in the decision making, especially given Faleata West’s strategic location in Samoa’s future plans.
“My constituency is now the centre of most of the developments we have in country. I want to contribute in the decision making of these developments and have a stronger voice in what’s being done.
“I believe that a Member of Parliament is someone who listens to what people want and need. He voices it in Parliament and that is my obligation to my people. I represent them in Parliament.”
Looking back, Leala does not regret the time he has spent as an Opposition M.P.
“It has helped me in shaping up my career as a politician,” he said.
“Most importantly, being with the opposition party had helped me to build up my confidence. I have no regrets in joining the party.
“My time with Tautua also gave me an insight of how a government is operated.
“Because I had to read all the legislations that comes through and voice the frustration of the people against the government.
“Sometimes you have to take the party line, but as an opposition member, you stand on your own and can voice whatever is necessary for the people. And that was the best thing for me because it has given me confidence to be a better politician.”
Leala said he would take the lessons he learnt from his time with the Tautua Samoa Party and use it to improve his work in Parliament.
“I enjoyed my time as an opposition M.P. and I did my job to the best of my ability when I was in the position.”
However, looking ahead, Leala is optimistic.
“I am looking forward to this change,” said Leala. “I think this is the right decision for me and my district and I am looking forward to the outcome of this decision.
“I’ve been in Parliament for ten years, and I have opened my eyes to other avenues. And I believe that for my constituency to move forward and for me to make a greater contribution to our government, I think this is the right decision for to make.
“I believe that I am at the right place at the right time.”
Lealailepule said he had visited his voters and talked to them about his decision.
“But we will all have to wait and see whatever the outcome will be. And no matter what the outcome will be, we will just have to thank the Lord and move on.”
As for his relationship with the Tautua Party, he said: “They are all my friends and they are still my friends. Just because I am switching sides, doesn’t mean we will no longer talk to each other.
“Politics is like that. We may argue and disagree about a lot of things, but we are all friends and we all understand each other.”
Should he come back on the other side of Parliament, Leala has vowed to be himself.
“In the future if the opposition has a go against me, well I have to argue back because that is politics. We can voice whatever opinions we have in Parliament,” he said. ”And we may have to argue about a few things, but at the end of the day, we shake hands, have coffee and laugh together.
Lastly, Leala wished all the candidates the very best for the upcoming election. That includes members of the Tautua Samoa Party and his rivals, Ale Vena, Moala Panoa Tavita and Ulu Bismark Crawley, who are also running for the H.R.P.P.
“Especially to Palu and my friends of Tautua. Also to all of us running for the election. Let us hope for the best and hopefully we will all come back and continue serving our country and people.”