Campaign styles and 'Samoan democracy'

The fiery replies, the name calling and the denials that one is not rattled – it has all been happening in recent weeks as the country counts down to the 2021 General Election.

And the political rhetoric is bound to hit the rooftop come April, if recent comments by candidates including party leaders are any indication.

There are standouts in this war of words, as party leaders reach further into their war chest to scavenge for what they consider to be more damning information, in a bid to strike a chord and sound relevant with Samoa’s eligible voters.

Last week Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi tore into the campaign strategy of the country’s newest political party Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) including its island-wide village-focused roadshows.

He described its methodologies as “Trump-like behaviour” and declared that his Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) is old school and will use the matai and the villages’ leadership to promote the ruling party’s goals and vision.

"There is no need to have big pictures and advertisements to show the whole world who the candidates are and why they should vote for each particular candidate,” he said on 2AP radio last Thursday. "Such practice exists in foreign countries and they are imitating the behavior of politicians in overseas countries."

Six days after ridiculing the methodologies of the F.A.S.T. party, Tuilaepa changed tact and urged his party’s faithful to turn up at the opposition party’s roadshows to “counter” their campaign messaging.

“I urge you all to go and ask questions,” said the Prime Minister, in a meeting with the party members during their caucus on Wednesday morning. 

Tuilaepa later told reporters after the H.R.P.P. caucus meeting, “I have nothing to worry about”, when quizzed on claims his party is worried, though his instructions to party members to now attend F.A.S.T. roadshows is actually a turnaround in party policy.

But looking at the issue with a lens, which the founders of democracy in ancient Athens used in 500 B.C. to define the parameters of the earliest forms of a democratic society, the decision by Tuilaepa to dispatch H.R.P.P. members to all F.A.S.T. party roadshows could benefit Samoa’s democracy over the long-term.

It is said democracy thrives when there is a diverse plethora of views in a state’s decision-making processes, and after 39 years of successive H.R.P.P. Governments (including 23 years of Tuilaepa’s Prime Ministership), it would not hurt for the people to hear alternative views on how a nation should be governed.

Therefore, thank you Prime Minister for giving significance to the F.A.S.T. party roadshows, and we urge you to get your party faithful to also hear out the policies and platforms of other political parties who will contest the general election, and to ask questions of their candidates where they see fit.

In ancient Greece the common good of the citizenry was paramount and public debates to influence public policy was encouraged and practiced, and having different views on issues were not condemned but accepted.

Fast forward thousands of years later after the days of Greek philosopher and democracy-promoter Aristotle, and close to 60 years after Samoa gained independence, we have leaders today who continue to make a mockery of the democratic values that the founders of Samoa’s Constitution espoused.

In that light the public would be amused to see the Prime Minister laughing off ongoing criticism by former H.R.P.P. Members of Parliament, La’auli Leauatea Schmidt and former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa who are of the view that Samoa is run by “one party-system controlled by one man.”

"They both know the normal process when it comes to decision making for the country," Tuilaepa said. 

"Fiame and La'auli have a fair understanding of how things are done. We have a Cabinet and we have Cabinet meetings to discuss issues and to make decisions. 

"I don't make decisions on behalf of the Cabinet. Yes, it is under my leadership, but we all discuss matters.

"I only raise my tone when I see that we (Cabinet) have outstanding issues that should've been addressed or when we are not in line with a decision that has been made before.

"But I don't make the decisions."

It is fair to say that the public has been privy to Tuilaepa’s one-man rule antics on the floor of the Parliament on a number of occasions last year – when the Prime Minister got into heated debate on the rationale of a number of contentious bills – until the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, in its own wisdom, pulled the plug on the Facebook live stream of its proceedings.

The spat between the Prime Minister and his former Deputy Fiame in April last year over the Electoral Bill 2020 is one such example. The recently enacted suite of L.T.C. laws is another example of Tuilaepa using the power of his party’s domination in the Parliament to bulldoze through contentious legislation.

To this very day the Prime Minister continues to refuse to entertain other views on the various laws enacted in this term of the Legislative Assembly including the L.T.C. laws, shutting out alternative perspectives and thereby denying all citizens of Samoa the right to contribute to nation building.

Is this a Government of the people, by the people and for the people? You be the judge.

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