Historian offers General Election preview

Historian and academic, Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, is excited about the prospects of next year's General Election.

Seven months away from when Samoans will go to the polls, Leasiolagi says he is "interested in the results to see how much the country has changed, or not."

Leasiolagi was approached by the Samoa Observer for his views on the political landscape today and what he believes could happen next year.

"I personally would like to see at least a bigger opposition so that they can get a better debate in Parliament," he said.

"I think it's wishing too much to say that there will be a change of government, but if there are enough numbers for a legally legitimate opposition to exist and to have a good debate in Parliament, that would be something I look forward to."

Leasiolagi believes that the developments that are happening leading up to the 2021 General election are what makes it "interesting."

"I guess it's going to be interesting from a lot of perspectives and the three Constitutional amendments which are currently being taken around to seek the country's approval or otherwise, have raised a lot of discussions on not only the actual nature of the three bills but also the politics of it. 

"Why are they being introduced, and who is going to benefit from it and what is going to happen and what may happen to customary lands as a result, both short term and long term? 

"And the issue of separating the Courts and the idea that the separation of the Courts will give recognition equally to individual rights, which they claim is being protected more by the criminal courts, and not to customary rights which is communal rights which they claim is being protected by the Land and Titles court. 

"All those debates are very interesting because at least the three bills have ignited that debate. I think it's a very important debate to have because of the implications of what the government, what the bills might result in. But also there's a whole bigger issue of separation of individual rights and communal rights. 

"Human rights should never be separated, in that kind of right, and this kind of right. They are done so, you know in children's rights, women's rights, economic rights, employment rights and etc. 

"They divided it like that because it makes it easier to analyse and discuss the nature of those categories. But in reality, I'm a man, I have employment rights, cultural rights and I am a member of the community and all that. So it's a bit irresponsible to suggest that the individual is separated from communal rights. 

"So the debate has ignited a lot of issues and passion I think.

"The other interesting thing about those three bills is, as I gather from the people of the villages that I have spoken with, including my own village in Poutasi, the issues and the concept which is being promoted in the bills are kind of very hard for an ordinary person to understand. 

"And despite my efforts and the efforts of the other people from our community to explain, it really requires a bit of time for things to sink in and I think there's genuine confusion at the village level."

He went on to say that it seems like the bills "will probably go through" as it had received a lot of backing from villages all across Samoa. 

However, he questioned whether the villages who have raised their hands in support of the changes behind the bills fully understand the bills. 

"I sometimes ask myself, how well those villages understand the implications of those. But it has created a big issue for the upcoming election, in terms of the society being divided over them and the government taking every path in promoting and trying to ensure that that passage is completed before the election. 

"Those are very interesting as the whole notion of the constitution being a scared document and it should never be amended without good reasons, so I think to quite a larger extend the society is divided. 

"Those who understand the repercussions of it, those who do not, and those who are in between. 

"Looking at what's happening, I think the outcome of the consultations is not clear, but it seems like the government will get support from the majority of the villages so I guess, politically and the context of the coming election, the government will gladly use that to legitimise their claims. 

"Not just those three bills but the reasons behind why they have been introduced and their visions of what those three bills will do to resolve the problems they are supposed to be addressing. 

"And they will just the approval from the majority of the villages as a way to beat those who do not agree."

Furthermore, Leasiolagi said the whole La'auli saga has created some interesting developments for the upcoming election. 

La'aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, a former Speaker of the House, Cabinet Minister, and ruling Human Rights Protection Party member. He was sacked from H.R.P.P. when he voted against Constitution amendments. He then declared his resignation in Parliament and started his own political party which triggered a by-election for his constituency, Gagaifomauga No.3. 

Last month, he was re-elected and will now enter Parliament as the first-ever Member of Parliament for the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi, (F.A.S.T.) party.

"The La'auli issue has created quite a few waves in the political arena in Samoa," Leasiolagi told the Samoa Observer. 

 "The things he has said in Parliament, the things he said outside of Parliament, and the fact that he has won the by-election by a huge majority have added legitimacy to some extent to what he is claiming as the problem to the current situation."

According to Leasiolagi, La'auli's resignation, reelection, and the narratives attached to it have offered this country room to doubt what the present government is saying. 

"It has given people something to hang on to, to express their views on the politics of the country at present. A lot of people are simply saying that this party has been in power for too long and they are seen to be taking a lot of things for granted. 

"I've said to a few people before, including someone from the Observer that we now have a generation of young Samoans who are thirty years old know nothing, but the H.R.P.P. government. 

"And they are faced with an issue with an alternative government, something which they have never experienced. 

"Some of them might be frightened with the possibility of a change in government, what would happen and there would be no government if the H.R.P.P. goes."

Another interesting factor for the upcoming election said Leasiolagi, is the increase in the participation and interests of Samoans living overseas which is seen mainly through the media. 

"It has been quite notable, although that participation is being dismissed by the Prime Minister. 

"But, I think there is genuine support for alternative parties from outside, if not financial, at least, moral and political in that sense. And I think La'auli has made it one of the platforms of this new party that they would somehow recognised the diaspora."

While Leasiolagi thinks that there is hope for a change in government, he believes it would be difficult to defeat the ruling H.R.P.P. 

"The government is well installed in every way, in the system all the way down to the village level. 

"So the mechanics of the government that is the government, that is the H.R.P.P. is far-reaching and that would be very very hard to dislodge, and it requires quite a lot of hard work. 

"So the departure and the comeback of La'auli and the most recent news of the merger of three political parties indeed would add to the atmosphere which would increase a lot of interest among Samoans in the next elections.

"In terms of the Electoral law and the recent amendments to that, I am not familiar with that, but I think people would have to read that very carefully to make sure that they don't miss out on exercising their votes, residential requirements, tautua and so forth. 

"So the voters and potential candidates standing from other parties ought to make absolutely sure that legally, the provisions of the electoral act are met, so they are disadvantaged. 

"I think our country should be able to deal with those things."

Asked if he is looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the upcoming election, he said, "Yes and No."

 "I'm interested in the results to see how much the country has changed or not. I don't expect to know the country's decision until the election happens. 

"I personally think that despite all the achievements of the present government, I think for me, I detect a little bit of impatient, and for alternative views and alternative ideas, and the way that they have been dismissed out of hand as irrelevant and sorts of rather severe words which I won't repeat. 

"So there's that element of it.

"But I personally would like to see a change in government or at least a bigger oppositions so that they can get a better debate in Parliament. I think it's wishing too much to say that there will be a change of government, but if there are enough numbers for a legally legitimate opposition to exist and to have a good debate in parliament, that would be something I look forward to."


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