“Elections maketh not a democracy”

Now that the general elections 2016 are over and Parliament and Cabinet are in place and ready to govern, congratulations are in order to the new members of Parliament, to the new Cabinet Ministers and to the party of government, the HRPP. 

These elections and results have certainly not lacked for grandiose description as commentators vie to put the event in the largest of terms. 

A new era has become. Parliament is now a truly Samoan one, whatever that means, are only two of the many extravagant descriptions of what happened. After allowing for the usual sensationalism in media reporting and self promotion in politics, these were indeed a milestone in our parliamentary democracy. Samoa is well and truly a one party state. 

The numbers speak for themselves, forty seven seats for the party of government, the HRPP to three seats for the Opposition party, Tautua. These are results one has come to associate with those Third World states with very dodgy systems of governments. 

Forty-seven parliamentary seats against three seats in a fifty seat parliament is an abnormal situation in a functioning parliamentary democracy. And under normal conditions, it would be a clear signal of there being something very rotten in the state of Denmark.  But not so in the island state of Samoa it seems, where the results have been welcomed with celebration, with prayers and thanks giving, and with congratulations all around. The explanation is that this Samoa and this is parliamentary democracy the Samoan way.   

Thirty years ago, we did have a vibrant two party system emerging in parliament. It was new, and subject to change like politics itself where a week is said to be a very long time indeed. But like Samoa’s new parliamentary democracy then, it also had all the time in the world to develop and grow and mature with proper care and nurturing by those we entrusted with its safe keeping. Today, we celebrate its demise. It will be replaced we are told by a manufactured form of opposition to go with our new truly Samoan parliament. 

Make-believe parliamentary debate and in-name only democratic institutions are not new to us. For quite a number of years now, most of our watch dog institutions have been in name only, left powerless and toothless by legislative and administrative changes made possible by the party of government commanding the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament to change the Constitution. As for mock parliamentary debate, we need look no further than our own parliament in recent years.

We were also entertained with a version of it before the polls when the aspiring women candidates were shown on television, learning the ropes about being parliamentarians when the voting was done.   

Readers with long memories may recall our “Elections maketh not a democracy” series which tried to trace and analyze the impact on our system of government, to our Constitution, to the electoral system and to other key institutions of government of legislative changes that were progressively being put into place after HRPP the party of government won and maintained up to now, a two thirds majority of seats in parliament.

We did that because of the obvious threat to any constitutional form of government that occurs when the two thirds majority protective fire wall is breached by any one faction or party. And as these constitutional watch dog agencies and checks on executive power were being taken down one by one and rendered of none effect, our series did try to warn about the final outcome of this process. That outcome as we said then was a progressive accumulation of economic and political power in the party of government, in this case, the HRPP party. These elections mark the completion of that process, 

This is not written now as an “I told you so” comment. The objective is to in the first place revisit the constitutional and legislative changes made under HRPP stewardship that have made possible the achievement of the one party state outcome.

As our series did before, we will also be looking at other factors that have influenced in a material way our political development under HRPP’s rule.  If our politicians are to be believed for instance, God has played a large hand in the outcome of these elections. 

Church and state separation may be an important principle of democratic government, but not so in Samoa where church and state are in the warmest of embrace, reminiscent of Europe in the Middle Ages.

In fact with few exceptions, most of our political aspirants openly attribute their political ambitions to a special calling from God. Some have gone further and claim their political appointment as having been a manifestation of God’s will. This is all well and good except we only have our chosen one’s word as proof. The danger always with bringing God into human politics is that He can also be used , as many a preacher has done  to cover up a multitude of sins. And bear in mind that politics is a profession that is best known for its susceptibility to compromise and worse.

Our own culture has understandably always held center stage in our political system. It has done so again in these elections with telling effect. The governance principles of Faa-Samoa like those of other traditional societies differ fundamentally from the universal governing principles of parliamentary democracy that underpin our Constitution and system of government. 

Understandably, as a people, we want our culture to be reflected in the way we govern ourselves. The only problem is the inevitable clash between these two contrasting systems, and the undermining of the integrity of one by the other when marriage between the two is attempted as stated by the 2001 Elections Commission of Inquiry.  We will examine instances where this has been the case and their contribution to the achievement of the one party state in Samoa.   

But first up and to conclude this comment today, let us take a closer look at the results and what the statistics tell us about this so called defining election.  In terms of the numbers of candidates registered by the two parties, this was a contest between HRPP’s 148 candidates, against Tautua’s 23. One can only assume here that Tautua could only muster 23 people that were willing to run for the Opposition party. But it meant among other things that Tautua did not even have enough to form a government if its candidates all came in. And with only 23 candidates at its disposal, Tautua also could not contest 18 seats, more than a third of the available seats in parliament. 

But the disparity in numbers and strength does not end there in this David and Goliath contest, because even before any vote was cast, HRPP had already “won” four seats, thanks to the controversial and much contested village monotaga provision in the Electoral Act passed only a few months before the polls.  Add these four not voted on seats to the eighteen constituencies not contested by Tautua, and you have HRPP with twenty two seats in the bag already before one single vote is cast. 

We can safely say with these figures that well before the voting began, the only question that needed answering was who of the HRPP 148 candidates were going to come in. Such was the disparity in numbers that this was in effect an HRPP versus HRPP contest with the Tautua providing a veneer of respectability and authenticity to our electoral system. In the event, HRPP won 43 seats at the polls, and 4 through the village monotaga provision in the Electoral Act making a total of 47. Almost half of HRPP’s sitting members lost out to other HRPP members including 5 cabinet ministers.

The Tautua opposition won 2 seats, and lost 7 sitting members including that of its leader. This seat’s dynamics had been substantially changed by legislation before the polls, a change that is still being contested in court by disaffected constituency members.

Tautua’s two seats turned to three when the maverick and quite remarkable Talatonu Vaai metamorthed as Olo Fiti Vaai from Itu Salega Sasae after having been stripped of his former MP status for Gagaemauga No 2 by the complexities of the Electoral Act. As if that was not enough, the Independent Olo Fiti Vaai then joined the two Tautua members in Opposition instead of joining the Government saying “…I will not follow that trail simply because of the benefits and perks. I shall stand by my principles and follow my heart because I have all the weapons from God to do the battle” All one can say is, may his tribe increase!

Commentators including government politicians have blamed Tautua for its demise. But rather than blame them, Tautua members should be commended for not joining the general stampede to the party of government. Rather than criticize Tautua for failing to do the impossible, questions must now be asked about why the party of government in Samoa is such a magnet for aspiring politicians and fortune seekers and their constituencies.

It was not always so. But it’s a trend that’s been in train now for the last three or four general elections. A number of Tautua members have also defected, joined the trend, and have been richly rewarded for their efforts.  

These are the questions our series will set out to discuss and answer. As already stated, we will revisit the changes made to our political system and in particular the Constitution and the electoral process, as well as discuss the issues of culture, of religion and of money that play such a role today in our political life. With that exploration, we believe the answers to the above questions should emerge soon enough.

It is said that war is too important to be left to the generals only. So it is with politics. It cannot be left to the politicians only most especially when fundamental issues of government, and Samoa’s future that call for national consensus and the constitutional pathway are today being decided by political partisan means. 


*The writer may be contacted at Email: [email protected] PS: Copies of the series “Elections maketh not a democracy” are available if interested

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