The dissenting voice and the critical role of political parties
There is a lot to be said about diversity in politics. Truth be told, the diversity of views in the political landscape of Samoa during the past few weeks has been wonderful and refreshing.
As a nation and as a people, we’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have a vibrant range of views when it comes to issues, let alone controversial debates such as the current one about the Judiciary and the Lands and Titles Court bills.
Which is not hard to understand. The only dominant voice has been that of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.). From the days of the late Tofilau Dr. Eti Alesana to Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, the H.R.P.P. has been in power for nearly 40 years and that is a very, very long time for any government to be in control.
While the H.R.P.P. has achieved a lot for Samoa - which we are extremely grateful for – history exists to remind us that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The fact that so much power is concentrated in the hands of one political party cannot be good for Samoa, or anywhere else for that matter.
Some of the developments in Samoa recently, including the debate about the L.T.C. bills that has been unfolding during the past few weeks, is evidence that Tuilaepa and the government of the day are too powerful. They are so powerful that they have the ability to do whatever they want, wherever, however and whenever. This is unhealthy for nation building. It is also destructive for democracy and the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance.
Suffice to say, we are at a critical juncture of our journey as a nation. Our ancestors, the visionaries and pioneers who paved the way for Samoa to be where it is today had done a marvelous job to carve the path and provide a platform for us to build upon. From the limited resources and what little money they had, they gifted us with wisdom, vision, principles and values to allow us to carry the baton until we pass it on to the next generation and so forth.
Somewhere along our journey, whether deliberate or unintentional, we’ve forgotten how important it is to have dissenting voices as part of building a better nation. The authoritarian rule of the present administration has certainly not helped because they have demonised the dissenting voice so that anyone who expresses a view other than the official Government line feels out of place.
Such an attitude sadly has contributed to the demise of political parties in Samoa. From once a vibrant and lively democracy in terms of political party views, this was shredded and reduced to the point where a lone ranger named Olo Fiti Vaai, also known as Levaopolo Talatonu, was the lone opposition party.
Indeed, during the past 10 years or so, we have witnessed the slow but sure destruction of political parties. The H.R.P.P’s growing influence and the attractive offers of power, possessions and positions pretty much ensured any political party that attempted to get in the way of the H.R.P.P. juggernaut was annihilated and destroyed.
For a while, the idea of political parties disappeared to the wayside, allowing the dangerous situation we have today of a one party state.
But there is good news on the horizon. With the General Elections announced for April next year, the emergence of four other political parties in the form of the Samoa National Democratic Party (S.N.D.P.), Samoa First Political Party (S.F.P.P.), Tautua Samoa Party and the Sovereign Independent Samoa Party (S.I.S.P.) is extremely encouraging.
We say this because if there is anything Parliament in this country needs; it is a strong opposition party. We need a strong group of people in Parliament to stand up, question and hold the H.R.P.P. government to account for its decision-making. This is what has been lacking.
Let’s be realistic about this and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just because we have several opposition parties now doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to see real changes tomorrow. This is going to take a while.
What’s comforting is that we are seeing a shift in mentality. This could be the beginning of something extremely important in terms of galvanising people to stand up, speak their minds and walk the talk when it comes to where it really matters, their votes.
Looking at the behaviour of these new political parties, it is also encouraging to see that they are beginning to strategise instead of merely making noises for the sake of it. The decision by the S.N.D.P. and the S.F.P.P. to join forces in their opposition to the L.T.C bills with a further plan to challenge the bills in Court is a good example. These parties will have a much better chance of being recognised and becoming a political force by pulling together.
The truth is that the ruling H.R.P.P. has become far too powerful. We simply cannot foresee how an outside force could topple it, unless it breaks apart from within. Cracks have been appearing within the H.R.P.P. camp for a while, which up until now, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has done a master job in plastering.
But how long can the repair job last? Only time will tell.
What we do know is that nothing lasts forever. Change is always on the horizon.