"This is what democracy is": La'auli condems Tuilaepa
The Chairman of the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party has rejected claims he is running a “foreign” style of election campaign.
The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, made the criticism of F.A.S.T.’s campaigning style during his weekly program with Radio 2AP on Thursday.
Tuilaepa’s comments came after the opposition party began running a roadshow campaign, which involves visiting electorates and seeking constituents’ opinions to help craft their policy platform. F.A.S.T. has made a point of seeking the opinions of not just chiefs or members of the village council.
The party says it is making time in each community for consultation sessions for young people, church ministers, and village women’s committees.
The Prime Minister went as far as referring to F.A.S.T.'s approach as "Trump-like", in a pointed reference to the outgoing American President.
"Why should they go out and ask the districts?” Tuilaepa asked.
"That is why we have Members of Parliaments and village mayors. They raise concerns from the different villages around the country.
"So there is no need to go out in the villages and ask for the people's opinion on different matters.
"The other thing is, why should an M.P. from a constituency in Savai'i visit a constituency in Upolu about their needs and wants and their opinions?
"Those are Trump-like behaviors. That is what Donald Trump did and they are imitating that.
"I do not understand the meaning of this and the motive behind their roadshow.
"Such [practices exist] in foreign countries and they are imitating the behavior of politicians in overseas countries."
The comments from Tuilaepa drew a harsh response from La'auli Leuatea Schmidt.
"It is very typical of him (Tuilaepa) to be harsh like that," La'auli said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
"We are getting used to his actions and the words he uses to criticise other people."
La'auli then moved to set the record straight by saying: "For your information, we are abiding by the law.
"Under the Electoral Act 2019, political parties and candidates are allowed to do campaigning during this period.
"What we are doing is not [illegal or bribery].
“If he is saying that it is a foreign practice, then he needs to stop and take a look around the country and see that we have adapted a lot of foreign practices already under [the current Government’s] leadership.
"You only need to look at the big buildings in the centre of Apia to realise this. All those buildings were made by foreigners; by Chinese.
"The architecture of those big buildings are from foreign countries. So which foreign practice should we allow and which [foreign] practice should we ban from the country?
"How can he say something like that, with all the changes that have happened in the country under their watch? And all the foreign practices you see around the island.
"We are only going out to the community to explain our manifesto and seek [the public’s] opinions about the issues that they feel need to be prioritised."
Hosting public consultations and collecting views from voters is nothing new, according to La'auli.
"As a matter of fact, this is exactly what our forefathers did back in the days,” he said.
"There was [the non-violent independence movement] Mau a Pule and Mau a Tumua,” he said.
“They sought the opinions of the people and gathered their views on ways to make this country better.
"That's exactly what we are doing at the moment."
La'auli then turned up his criticism of the Prime Minister, saying: "This is what democracy is like.
"This public consultation and community visits, it's a sign of a democratic country.
“Such practices are allowed in a democratic country, where leaders should always go back and ask the voters about their opinions on how to develop the country moving forward.
"He (Tuilaepa) does not care about these things because he does not care about the people anymore.
"He does not consider the voice and opinions of the people. That's the same for their M.P.s
"Those M.Ps were chosen by the voters and their role is to represent the voters inside Parliament and be the voters' voices in Parliament.
"So in other words, the M.P.'s should always listen to the voters. Not the leader of the party or the leader of the country.
"Because Tuilaepa did not choose them, the voters did."
In any democratic country, the opinions and voices of the voters matter most, added La'auli.
"The leaders should always ask the people first and seek their opinions first and foremost,” he said.
"But as you can see, that's not what the current Government is doing. The M.P.s are controlled by the party leader and they no longer listen to the voices and opinions of the people who voted for them.
"He should stop blaming others and stop trying to control everything and start asking the people about their needs and wants.
"After all, this is a democratic country."
The first stop for F.A.S.T.’s election roadshow was at Aleipata I le Itupa I Lalo. It will then make its way through Anoama’a and the rest of Upolu by the end of January.
La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, Chairman of F.A.S.T. said the consultations will contribute towards building the party’s final manifesto, which is expected to be launched in March.
A roadshow for Savai’i will follow in February, starting in Fa’asaleleaga, moving towards the Itu o Tane and all over the big island.