A question of loyalty. But to whom?
Loyalty and politics are strange bedfellows. Just as integrity and ethics are when it comes to political views and relationships.
In a perfect world, these are fantastic ideals to aspire to and which we hear quite often being tossed around. Politicians and aspiring leaders love to talk about integrity, ethics and loyalty when it comes to their aspirations for their jobs and the people they serve. Wonderful. Who doesn’t want leaders who inspire through examples of integrity, respect for ethics and loyalty?
But what happens when the going gets tough and the water gets rough where a leader’s loyalty is tested? Where does that place a politician’s commitment to integrity and ethics? And what do you do when loyalty is demanded by a party, or a leader, even if it’s at the expense of protecting laws and democratic values?
A story on the front page of Friday’s Samoa Observer titled “P.M. considers blocking rebel M.P.s” is worth thinking about. The story reveals that the Prime Minister is looking to close “loopholes” in legislation designed to stop Members of Parliament from crossing the floor and leaving their political parties.
The move comes in the aftermath of Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa resigning from Cabinet and the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P). Prior to that, two other members of the party in Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt and Faumuina Wayne Fong found themselves out of favour and eventually out of the party.
Tuilaepa believes that the ability for a Member of Parliament to quit a political party and sit as an independent is a way to get around a law designed to ensure party loyalty. Previously only M.P.s who crossed the floor were subject to by-elections, not independents.
And he clearly believes his former deputy is the latest M.P. to take advantage of the legislative gap.
"Fiame was there when we designed the legislation," Tuilaepa said about the law governing M.Ps crossing the floor. "It was done so we (can) maintain the unity and peace within the government of Samoa.”
According to the Prime Minister, the law has kept the peace and unity within the party and Government for so many years. But something happened, he said, to decrease M.P.s’ party loyalty.
“Tensions started to rise when people who could not achieve what they wanted to get in the beginning decided to leave," Tuilaepa said.
He then pointed to La’auli: "He left because he wasn't honest with his duties as a Cabinet Minister. He only focused on running his businesses. We do not need these kinds of people in Government.”
Well that is a very serious allegation. It would be good to see what La’auli would say, especially given the fact that just about all Members of Parliament have private business interests.
Back to the Prime Minister, he said the issue is that once a Member of Parliament pledges their loyalty to a party, they should stick with it.
And as the leader of the party of Government it is obvious that his incentives are to keep the balance of power as it is for as long as possible.
“If you entered Parliament as a member for [the Samoa National Democratic Party (S.N.D.P.), you should remain as a member of S.N.D.P. until that Parliamentary term ends,” he said.
"Why? Because it is not cheap and nice when you go out and do campaigns and tell your constituency that you are a member of the S.N.D.P. political party and when the voters vote for you because they support S.N.D.P. But then once you are not given a Ministerial portfolio, then you start playing dirty games and decide to leave and join Tautua.
"The most honorable thing to do is to go back and ask your constituency whether they accept your actions or not. If you go back and have a by-election and get elected once again, that means the constituency has given you their blessing. That is how it should be done."
Well then maybe Prime Minister Tuilaepa has singled out the wrong guy in La’auli. After he was forced out of Parliament despite not tendering a written resignation, as the law demands, he returned to his constituency and a by-election was held which he won hands down. In the end, the process was a total waste of time and money. And for what exactly? No one knows.
The same thing would happen if Fiame were forced to return to her constituency and seek their re-endorsement at another by-election. Her support base at Lotofaga has been one of the H.R.P.P.’s strongholds in recent General Elections where she barely broke a sweat in winning the constituency.
So all this stuff from Tuilaepa about by-elections seems unlikely to achieve its aims or much other than incurring public expenses. It’s such nonsense.
It sounds like someone who wants to increase the control - real and imagined - he exercises over M.P.s in his party room.
Which brings us to the question of loyalty again. When it comes to La’auli and Fiame, there is absolutely no doubt that they have been loyal members of the H.R.P.P. given the history of their families and their lives of service to Samoa. The same can also be said about Faumuina Wayne.
Some of the most significant recent developments in Samoan politics have involved M.P.s standing up and doing what they and their constituents consider to be the right thing.
Perhaps for many years, Fiame, Laauli and Faumuina maintained their loyalty and allegiance because they believed in the founding ethos of the H.R.P.P. that brought about so many much-needed developments to the country. But then they probably saw something else we couldn’t and they have had enough.
There are red flags to blind loyalty. Pledged to a Government that M.P.s such as Fiame have said is slipping away from the rule of law, such elected representatives find themselves in a bind.
Tuilaepa’s plan to change the law to stop these Members of Parliament from leaving their political party would only deter M.P.s from acting upon their conscience. Is that a good thing?
One thing for sure is that it will shore up the Prime Minister’s political powerbase and stem any defections.
But another question is whether laying down rules is the way to triumph in contests of ethics and honour. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Have a lovely weekend Samoa, God bless!