It’s just another day in Samoa’s political journey
Well there you have it. Another chapter in Samoa’s political history unfolded and was written on Tuesday.
If journalism is the first rough draft of history as Phillip Graham said, then the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer, inside stories, and the other stories in print and other forms of media, is all that remains for us to ponder upon as we navigate our way through these rather interesting times in our journey as a nation.
Truth be told, Parliament and politics in Samoa has not been this interesting and relevant to many people for a long, long time. With the ruling Human Rights Protection Party having been in power for nearly 40 years, people can be forgiven for dozing off from time to time, watching the same film over and over. It’s natural.
But the political dynamics appear to have kicked into another gear in the recent past with the General Election around the corner, largely driven by some fascinating developments in the political landscape involving some key movers and shakers.
One of them is none other than the charismatic Gagaifomauga No. 3 Member of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt. A former Speaker of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister, La’auli’s story including his exit from the H.R.P.P. and the by-election he had just won has been well told.
But as if we haven’t seen enough drama already, Tuesday was another intriguing chapter. It happened when he was asked to rise to take his oath in Parliament, a very ordinary event that suddenly found a life of its own.
After La’auli had placed his hand on the Holy Bible and recited his oath, the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa'afisi, objected to the Member of Parliament’s use of the “Laaulialemalietoa” title. Leaupepe said this was important to ensure Members of Parliament are seen to be doing what is right and acceptable in accordance to the law. He went on to caution La'auli that he could be charged for making a false declaration and he could not accept him as a Member of Parliament unless he declares "your true name."
Not many people would have seen this coming but given the developments between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and La’auli leading up to Tuesday, it was hardly surprising. Indeed, since he questioned the almighty establishment, the Government has been out to make life difficult and humiliate La’auli as much as they can. Tuesday’s incident in Parliament was a new low and it showed just how petty and bitter some people can be.
To Laauli’s credit, however, after a brief moment of awkwardness, he composed himself and found the strength to recite his oath, yielding to what the Speaker demanded. In doing so, a potentially embarrassing situation, where a Member of Parliament who has just won an election, is ejected by the Speaker over a technicality, was avoided.
But then again, there was something about Speaker Leaupepe on Tuesday. On his last political legs before he retires, he appears to have suddenly found a renewed vigour for his job. Prior to the swearing-in incident, he proceeded to read out the riot act on ethics, acceptable standards and the importance of maintaining integrity for Members of Parliament. Wonderful. Absolutely.
“Each member should respect the law, and each member should respect each law in Samoa and protect the laws under the Constitution,” said Leaupepe.
Well that’s a big call about the Constitution, isn’t it? Coming from a veteran Speaker of Parliament who has presided over countless amendments to the Constitution, does he really expect people to believe what he is saying?
Let’s be honest, we’ve lost count of the many changes this Government, and Parliament, have made to the Constitution. Judging from the number of times the Constitution has been amended lately, people can be excused for thinking that this country’s founding law has become a mere plaything for some politicians.
The three bills before Parliament proposing a total restructure of the Land and Titles Court and the judiciary are a classic example of this but then that’s a yarn for another time.
Ironically, the Speaker of Parliament was making all this noise during an urgent Parliament meeting called to discuss changes to a law where the Constitution was changed. We’re talking about the Electoral Act 2019, which introduced monumental changes that have fractured Samoa’s traditional structure, culture and voting system.
The Act was subject to a legal challenge in the Supreme Court by Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papali’i Panoa Tavita. Although the challenge was later withdrawn when the parties reached a compromise, the idea that a law where Parliament changed the Constitution was deemed “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory,” requiring urgent redrafting and an urgent Parliament session on Tuesday, does not reflect well on the sentiments espoused by the Speaker.
But then again, one could be forgiven for thinking that Tuesday’s urgent session was an opportunity exploited by the Government to make more changes to the Electoral Act to plug holes that are starting to appear in the powerful H.R.P.P. machinery, following La’auli, Faumuina Wayne Fong and Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s exit.
How else can one explain a clause to stop Members of Parliament from switching allegiances, which was cunningly snuck in and passed, without any consultation or due process required for law making?
Now let’s pause here and think for a minute. Think about ethics, principles and what is decent and acceptable. Think about the respect for the rule of law. Such big noble ideals and words that sound so hollow looking at the latest chapter of Samoa’s political journey. Stay tuned!