La'auli's victory to challenge status quo
And so the saga of Laaulialemalietoa Leuaatea Schmidt has come full circle.
It has been more than a year since the M.P.’s struggle with the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, about his place in the party of Government began.
That chapter has now reached a definitive conclusion with the result of last week’s by-election.
La’auli has been returned to Parliament by his constituents with an increased majority,
His return has cemented not just his place in the Legislative Assembly but now also threatens the party which ousted him.
On Friday the voters of his seat of Gagaifomauga No. 3, returned La’auli with a thumping majority of 79 per cent.
That is an increase of nearly 15 percentage points compared to his showing in the 2016 election.
For this achievement we offer our congratulations to the former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and stalwart of the Human Rights Proptection Party (H.R.P.P.).
The voters have endorsed not just La’auli but the new Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) he formed with the backing of his constituents.
The party’s rise is a new chapter not just for La’auli but, potentially, the history of the nation.
"A political party that we nurtured, developed over some time, and finally established,” he told the Samoa Observer following his victory.
"I will go happily and serve them well for I know I have their support and trust.
"As you may have been aware, the integrity and the loyalty of this constituency have been tested not once but so many times before.”
La’auli has won over not just his electorate. He has laid the foundation across Samoa for a new platform and a showdown witth the H.R.P.P.
But La’auli knows better than anyone what such a matchup will demand.
After all, he and his family are responsible for the H.R.P.P.’s stronghold.
La’auli’s late father, Polataivao Fosi Schmidt, was not only his predecessor in representing Gagaifomauga No. 3 for more than three decades, but one of the party’s founding members.
But La’auli has clearly taken to the task of creating a platform that might challenge the party’s dominance.
F.A.S.T. 's policy platform, while limited, is the product of nation-wide consultation and one designed to appeal to the nation’s 11 original political constituencies.
Its main planks include: recognition (as yet undefined) for the role of Samoa’s overseas diaspora; Prime Ministerial term limits; ending taxation of church Ministers; and putting a stop to the proposed overhaul of the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.).
These are the seeds of a platform that could serve as the basis for an opposition force that has been missing in Samoan politics for several electoral cycles.
But with La’auli’s return to Parliament can we expect to see any of it realised before the next election?
That is less than likely.
Between now and when Parliament finishes for the year in October, or before its ultimate conclusion in the three months prior to April’s general election, is unlikely to be a time for legislative reform.
Within such time constraints, La’auli’s role is likely to be other than legislative,
Instead, both he and F.A.S.T. represent the emergence of a new rival centre of power to the H.R.P.P.
F.A.S.T. is already showing itself to be a potentially formidable opposition force, the likes of which have not been seen in Samoan politics for some years.
On Wednesday the party showed itself capable of consolidating that role, when it announced a merger with the other leading opposition force for the next election, the Samoa National Democratic Party.
Combined, the two will field a strong team of candidates for the next election.
But the party represents not only a potential home to opposition outside the Government but also from within it.
F.A.S.T. could attract breakaway M.P.s such as Faumuina Wayne Fong but also other much anticipated but yet-to-emerge fractures from within the H.R.P.P.
Will it be enough, though, to surmount the powers and resources of a party that has all the advantages and resources of four decades of incumbency?
That is another question entirely.
But even if it should fall short of that ambitious goal, F.A.S.T. appears a good chance to change the dynamics of the status quo: a nation’s Parliament and politics which, for so long, have been dominated by one party alone.