Keep the peace

Keep the peace. A phrase we hear most often during fractious, trying times.  

After a year of closed borders, a measles outbreak, terror over a global pandemic, increasing unemployment, a downturn in the economy, a dying tourism industry and spectacular flooding, it would be safe to say we are in the midst of something many of us have never experienced at such an overwhelming scale in the last 30 years.

Uncertainty.  

Now historically, this country has always been lauded as one of the most stable in the region. A shining beacon of good governance principles, public sector reform and economic stability.

Enter 2020 and uncertainty seems to be our new reality. That uneasy feeling has wrapped itself tightly around our collective throats, amplifying every doubt and fear we have about our future.

Combined with an Election year and we’re looking at a powder keg, sitting uncomfortably close to the open fire.

Samoa has been through a lot in a year.

As a nation, we have been trying to hold on to what our society is best known for – respect, faaaloalo.
It keeps us grounded and safe in the knowledge that we are Chosen.

From a young age, every Samoan is taught respect. From Sunday school to the highest offices in our Churches and Government, everyone is expected to show respect. We learn from our elders, our teachers, our preachers, and our villages that respect – receiving and giving – is the gold standard for being a Samoan.

We learn by following the examples of our forebears, our superiors, our elders and of course our leaders.

So what happens when the most fundamental aspect of being Samoan is eroded?

According to comments in Parliament’s chambers these past five weeks, disrespect is akin to treason.

We all knew this year’s General Election would generate some heat.

After a tumultuous 2020, fractures within the ruling party’s ranks only added to the uncertainty.

From the Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa resigning in protest against three bills that would forever change the landscape of Samoa’s unique judicial system, to former Cabinet Minister Laauli Polataivao Fosi Schmidt resigning from Parliament in protest against his former political party and masters to found a new kind of opposition party that seemed implausible a few years ago.  

But now, 49 days away from our General Election, the roosters are truly coming home to roost for the incumbents and their wily opponents.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister said he was worried about a possible “uproar” in the future, amongst our Samoan diaspora.  

“The demeaning influence being carried overseas is very strong and causing unrest amongst our overseas people.”

In a surprising Ministerial Statement delivered on Monday this week, he spoke cautiously and deliberately about misinformation being spread recklessly through political campaigns.

He lambasted F.A.S.T. (Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi) for preying on Samoans who he said were seen as easy-pickings due to their perceived naiveté.

“Outside of these [parliamentary] chambers it is possible to mislead and defame in order to promote a challenge against government, this leads to unrest,” he said.

“And it’s not just our families overseas who are unaware of [F.A.S.T.] actions outside of Parliament to mislead, but also our people in rural villages, who are seen to be weak-minded and easily deceived.

“Why do they [F.A.S.T.] think that way? Our rural people are actually very clever.

“They listen in to broadcasts of Parliament and marvel at the commitment [of M.P.s] but when they deliver their speeches in their communities, it’s completely different talk.”

The Prime Minister was referring to popular F.A.S.T. campaign promises of returning unused Government lands to villages, allowing Samoans overseas to vote, repealing contentious laws, stopping the Vaiusu Wharf project and a slew of others.

These promises have been formalised in a Manifesto that has been taken to the grassroots of Samoan society via roadshows, for consultation and discussion.

Despite the ruling party’s efforts to dismiss the roadshows as un-Samoan and disrespectful, the popularity of the oppositional caravan has only grown, on the ground and online.

“I advise them to keep the peace but I also believe that these are tests to our [Government] but I trust we still keep the peace,” said Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Tuilaepa has appeared less and less confident as the weeks have progressed, firing on all cylinders one day and looking weary and worn the next.

In calling for peace, one might take it to mean he acknowledges the growing discontent and barrage of online condemnation towards his Government.

The Prime Minister’s appeal to “keep the peace” is remarkable in that he has ignored his own contribution to the current disconnect between his Government and what seems to be a sizable group of our overseas communities.

Over the last decade, his popular weekly media interviews have set the stage for some spectacular verbal attacks on anyone in his crosshairs.

As Father-of-the-Nation, his outbursts are often excused as patriarchal guidance or, when the heat has subsided, informal banter between friends.  

But what we have all come to accept is that this seemingly innocuous chat between the Prime Minister and media is emblematic of a loss of respect within our communities.

The Leader of this nation has made a joke out of disparaging those who oppose him. This Newspaper for one has borne the brunt of his disapproval and ridicule over and over again.

So if we are meant to learn from our elders, our teachers, our leaders... is it reasonable to say the Prime Minister is in some way responsible for opening a pandora’s box and emboldening online personalities in their unrelenting, disrespectful rhetoric?

Or is the public supposed to ‘Do as I say, and not as I do?’

As watchdogs, we believe in a healthy skepticism of big talk and even bigger promises.

So perhaps there is some merit to the PM’s warnings about his political opponents’ campaign promises. It doesn’t, however, recuse him from responsibility in the general acceptance of derogatory comments shared widely and openly.

How can he lambast others for inciting ill feeling towards his Government, when he has done the same towards many others?  

Whether those political promises come to fruition, or whether any action is taken against alleged misinformation being spread by the ruling party’s opposition, remains to be seen.

 We all know political games are not for the weak, and while the seasoned professionals have at it, who gets caught in the middle? Everyone else.

This is of his own making. Even Laauli, an H.R.P.P. wunderkind, legacy and now malcontent, who has been pandering to every diasporic aspiration – is of Tuilaepa’s making.

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