Politics is the art of the possible

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Mika Kelekolio*

Prussian Otto Von Bismarck once said that “Politics is the art of the possible.”

Mao Tse Tung is quoted as saying, “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.”

Otto Von Bismarck statement means different things to different people. He may even have been thinking of us Samoans when he coined his famous quote. If he was, I don’t think he was talking about us behaving in a politically correct and proper manner. Or about setting ideological goals to shape Samoa’s future. I think he was talking about our cultural mind-set, about knowing what’s best for one and taking a pragmatic to achieve it. 

If that mean’s severely compromising ones principles to get what one wants, so be it. To not do it, means he’ll get nothing whatsoever.

Many of us, I’m sure, will have no problem sharing Von Bismarck’s sentiment. And we don’t have to dig hard or deep to find examples amongst our politicians, both present and past, to find they fit this category well. 

The two H.R.P.P. ministers who were sentence to life imprisonment for their role in the murder of one of their colleagues in the early days of P.M. Tuila’epa’s reign comes readily to mind. Their modus operandi was to use their public offices to accumulate wealth and create businesses for themselves. Stuff the moral principles that were supposed to guide their behaviour as government ministers.  

Another example is the Minister of Finance in the last government. We all let out a sigh of relief when he eventually resigned amid mounting accusation that he misused taxpayers’ money and misbehaved discharging his responsibilities. He was driven not by any ideological goal to help lighten the burden of our people but by pursuing what he believed was the best for himself and his supporters. 

He didn’t care because he saw himself as the rightful heir to Tuila’epa and was therefore indispensable. Thankfully, he took the PM’s advice and resigned thereby saving him the embarrassment of being disposed in the manner the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour was disposed of, following last year’s elections. 

Then there is my Faleata West MP Leala’ilepule (Leala) Rimoni. He would never have become the Associate Minister for Telecommunications had he not ditched Tautua for H.R.P.P. 

But, was his switch the result of a burning desire to improve our people’s situation? I doubted. Leala did what was best for Leala. 

And he didn’t have to compromise any principles at all as they were already tightly wrapped-up and placed in Tuila’epa’s pocket.

Leala made the impossible possible. 

On the other hand, we have New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern whose principles are unshakeable. 

No one believed 10 weeks ago that she would become the leader of the Labour Party and subsequently Prime Minister. Maybe not even herself. 

At the start of August, she was happy to just be the Deputy Leader of her Party. Even when she was pushed into the leadership role, she was still reluctant and had to seek a unanimous yes from her caucus before she would accept it. She is even quoted by The Guardian Newspaper (UK) as saying that “the only way she would ever lead the Labour Party would be if her entire caucus was hit by a bus and she was the [only] survivor.” 

The difference between Ardern and many of our politicians is that she wants to change society for the better.

She compromised her principles only because she wants to turn the present NZ to one that is not only just, but has a sustainable future for its people. Something that the free market ideology, champion by National in the last nine years and Labour before then, has failed to deliver.

Many believe that she will achieve her goal. She may even go down in history as one of NZ’s great Prime Minister. 

To her, politics is the art of the possible – for the good of everyone.

But, what is politics to the average person on the street? Do they really care?

To be honest, most people don’t really give a rat’s tail. Others see it as just a game like any other game. Except that those other games have a whole set of rules for players to abide by. 

With politics, there are no rules. It is about the survival of the dirtiest. We saw it here in NZ during the election campaigns last month where National tried to destroy Labour and damaged NZ First Winston Peter’s reputation by spouting out lies and misinformation.

No one epitomises “Politics is war without bloodshed ……….” slogan better than President Donald Trump. He declares war on anyone who doesn’t agree with him including those who helped him win the presidency. In seven months, he’s dismissed six of his top staff.

Luckily, he hasn’t gone as far as some African leaders who literarily extinguish their opponent(s) in order to stay in power.

Last week, our own Faumuina Wayne Fong accused some of his H.R.P.P. colleagues of playing dirty politics by “jostling for the Prime Ministership position” while Tuila’epa was recuperating in Auckland. That didn’t surprise me at all. Such rumours have been swirling around for a long time and tends to surface every time the PM is abroad for a prolonged period of time.

And they are usually linked to one or two ambitious members who felt disgruntled and disillusioned because they got dropped from Cabinet or ignored when ministerial portfolios were allocated. 

The only surprise however, is that it has taken this long for a Government MP to come out and say it publicly. 

For PM Tuila’epa, he has heard this many times before. More so when Government switched the side of the road on which we drive which caused some of his then Ministers and MPs to openly voiced their opposition. (He proved them wrong though.) 

So, rather than a war as Mao says, politics inside H.R.P.P. is just a water pistol fight that ends as soon as Tuila’epa looks up and says, “Sole, se soia ia!”

Unlike most western democracies, Samoa is a very small village. People at one end can hear what you’re saying at the other. Tuila’epa has a lot of ears within and outside H.R.P.P. They tell him what exactly is going on, whose plotting what and why.  So, I don’t think he’s overly worried by it at all. 

If he’s worried, it’s more about fighting off political fatigue. Any leader who has been in his position for that long will likely suffer from it. He would have stood down a long time ago had there been an obvious leader to not only continue to enhance the international respect we currently enjoy as a country but maintain the political stability we, as a developing nation, has become known for. 

Without Tuila’epa, H.R.P.P. will self-destruct. It is because of his stewardship that H.R.P.P. has not only survived in power this long. It’s also the reason why their majority keeps on increasing with every election.

And therein lies the problem for Tuila’epa and H.R.P.P. They have become a victim of their own success. With all but 3 MPs out of 47 being H.R.P.P. members, and with only 13 ministerial portfolios, many will languish in the backbenches with little to do for the rest of their careers. 

That’s bound to create factions and foment mischief making. And as the saying goes, idle hands is the devil’s workshop.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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