PEOPLE OF 2020: Laauli, Faumuina and Olo
In a year where we have seen some major movements in the political landscape of this nation, the role of politicians La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, Olo Fiti Vaai and Faumuina Wayne Fong is pretty hard to ignore.
As a group, they might be regarded as a minority in Parliament but there is general feeling that their union – with the support of former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa – could be the biggest threat the all powerful ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) has faced in a very long time.
While there have been opposition parties in recent General Elections where the H.R.P.P. had completely dominated, observers believe that the arrival of the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) has provided a different dynamic in terms of organisation and pulling power for voters in this country.
How will they fare against the establishment manned by the experience of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the juggernaut that is the H.R.P.P. Government in next year’s General Election?
Only time will tell.
But on their own merits, La’auli and his colleagues deserve recognition for being bold and for finally providing what this country has been yearning for in terms of Parliament democracy for many years, an opposition party.
Aside from Olo who has been that lone voice in the wilderness for many years, the one-party state nature of Parliament meant the H.R.P.P. could do whatever, whenever and however they please. Which is precisely what has led Samoa down the path it has found herself today.
The blurring of lines between the separation of powers and to an extent the introduction of laws, which now completely threaten the independence of the Judiciary, has been allowed because there was no resistance for the Government where it mattered, in Parliament.
Finally when there was some resistance, La’auli was sacked.
His crime? He simply voted against a law that completely redefined Samoa’s electoral constituencies, disrespecting cultural boundaries and traditions. But sacking him wasn’t enough. A long-drawn out dispute over an overpriced generator quotation, which up until now remains a sensitive matter, led to his removal from Parliament and a by-election. He won of course. Easily.
Sometimes, history tells us some great things can be birthed from pain and adversity.
While La’auli had previously announced his intention to form a new party, it was when he returned to Parliament after the by-election that F.A.S.T. really came into form and the shape it has morphed into today.
But La’auli on his own can only go so far. Which is why the support of his other former H.R.P.P. colleague, Faumuina Wayne, who was also booted from the establishment simply for being vocal against some of their plans - including the wharf at Vaiusu - became extremely important in the push for an opposition party.
Like La’auli, Faumuina comes from a family of H.R.P.P. supporters.
But there is a time for everything and his decision to join F.A.S.T and La’auli was inevitable given the way he was mistreated, and especially after former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame also joined the walk of the brave from the H.R.P.P’s riches.
But there was one last twist to this story and it unfolded not that long ago.
After Faumuina and Olo registered to run for F.A.S.T. in next year’s General Election, they incurred the wrath of the Speaker of Parliament, whom without the blink of an eye, removed them from the Maota Fono, declaring their seats vacant.
Faumuina and Olo challenged the decision in the Supreme Court and won. It was a victory for the ages.
And who did they have by their side during the proceedings and when the decision was announced?
Who else but their friend La’auli!
Pictures are worth thousands of words and there is quite a telling picture, which will be remembered quite fondly when people who follow politics think about 2020. The picture is that of La’auli, Olo and Faumuina lifting their hands in triumph outside the Court.
The first time they did that, La’auli had just won a major Court battle where his name was cleared of all criminal charges against him.
The second time was not that long ago when the Supreme Court ruled against the Speaker of Parliament’s decision against Olo and Faumuina. The elation, emotions and the smiles said it all.
There is no guarantee that they will be able to replicate the same pose, and have a similar picture taken after the General Election next year.
But if their union, with the support of Fiame, can at least guarantee Samoa’s Parliament an official opposition that is recognised in the House, then their sacrifice would have been worth it and this country in the long run can thank them for it. The future generations of Samoa will have quite the picture to talk about.