Defining vote in our history
On the eve of the 2016 General Elections, a prominent academic says the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) will create history if they win again tomorrow.
Describing the H.R.P.P as a political “phenomenon,” the Director of the Centre of Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S), Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, says Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s H.R.P.P is set to become the longest serving political party in any democracy.
And should they win tomorrow, Samoa could possibly be looking at another 30 years of H.R.P.P, with the birth of a new generation of party supporters.
The outcome though might be a foregone conclusion, judging by the sheer numbers.
Of a 171 candidates in the General Elections, the H.R.P.P has more than a 130 candidates. With 18 seats not contested by the Tautua Samoa Party, four members of the H.R.P.P – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa – have already secured their seats.
For Leasiolagi, he said the H.R.P.P’s dominance speaks about a solid foundation and a powerbase that continues to grow.
“It’s an interesting issue about evolution of democracy in our society,” he told the Samoa Observer. “A lot of younger people have never seen anything other than the Human Rights Protection Party and we call them the generation of H.R.P.P.
“This is one of the reasons why the election is important because if people decide that the H.R.P.P. has been in power for thirty years, they might want them again.
“It is probably the longest serving political party in any democracy I know of in the world and the longest serving government other than those run by dictators.”
Does that mean Samoa then has become a dictatorship?
“It’s become dictatorship of the minority,” Leasiolagi explained. “What that means is that people who are not in power do not have a say or have their opinions heard. There is definitely that element of it when a government or a person is involved for a long time and they become used to it.
“In some cases they become so much (attached) that they forget the obligation to the minority opinions.That’s why it’s important that even with a government that has been in power for a long time, I hope there will still be an opposition party.”
The law dictates that for a party to be recognised in Parliament, it must have at least eight members. The Tautua Samoa Party has more than 20 candidates.
Leasiolagi said the Tautua Samoa is in a difficult predicament, especially up against a well established machine like the H.R.P.P. He said the powerbase for the ruling party has been well-thought out in terms of supporters and where that support comes from.
In his view, any political party would want to emulate that to ensure re-election possibilities are protected.
Speaking of re-elections and possibilities, Leasiolagi pointed to the manifestos launched by the two parties as an example of the different approaches by the parties. Referring to the documents as a vital tool to gain the attention of the voters, he said the Tautua Samoa Party clearly fell short.
“The most important part of manifesto is the way it is communicated to the people,” he said. “The Tautua manifesto is only one and half page with no sort of background.
“They probably think that the concentration span of the readers is so short so they thought it’s better to write it that way. “But if you look at the H.R.P.P, it has a lot more pages with a well (detailed) background. They have contextualized things they have done in the past and things to do in future.
“If it’s about communication, for me the H.R.P.P manifesto was a better communication document.” Overall, Leasiolagi said in terms of orientation, the parties both want development.
Interestingly, the parties had no space in their manifestos for issues of gender.
“In the context of this election and the last months, 18 months, a lot of resources and money were being channeled into workshops awareness programmes (for gender equality),” he said.
“And here you have two manifestos and not one of them mentioned anything specifically about gender. You ask question; what does that say about the views and the attitude of political parties towards gender equality issues?” Leasiolagi pointed out that Samoa has become a signatory to a lot of international conventions. It implies that Samoa should be implementing the philosophies behind those conventions.
Some of them though will contradict the Samoan culture.
Talking about culture, Leasiolagi said it is interesting that the point of reference for change is culture. He said when new things come up; people bring up culture as a thermometer to measure change.
“When you think about it, when people talk about culture, they talk about some idea of culture that never changes but of course we all know culture changes. “When cultures is used as a thermometer against which change is measured, there is that idea of a static society versus a society that is evolving.”
There is also the trend of people using culture and traditions to stop conversations. This, he believes, is abuse.
“When people want to use old customs and traditions to defend something it usually seems to me that culture is being abused by people doing that,” he said.
“I’m a traditional person and I grew up in a village but I’m sad to see that traditions and culture being abused in that context.
“When people don’t want to debate something and don’t want to talk about it they say that’s my tradition and full stop, to stop discussion and debate.”
As for the debate about the monotaga, Leasiolagi said the spirit of it is that villages still become the center of identity.
Understanding that a government would not be able to do anything without the collaboration of villages, he said the monotaga is crucial.
However, he believes the government should provide more clarity in terms of what the monotaga is to avoid it being misunderstood and violated.