The silly season and the nature of political parties

The country is in the middle of what some political pundits say is the “silly season” with the XVI Legislative Assembly dissolved and the Government in caretaker mode.

Some say that during the silly season stories of ‘lesser importance’ make headlines as Cabinet and Ministries are in caretaker mode with limited powers unable to make major policy decisions.

And unsurprisingly, rivals of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) have been quick to point that out on social media, jumping at every opportunity to comment on stories that suggest otherwise when quoting a Cabinet Minister in the current caretaker Government.

And it would be silly to think that stories of lesser stature made the press this week, as candidates and political parties go head-to-head in a high stakes battle that is being waged on social media.

You can already pick out the ‘big boys’ from the ‘small boys’ when it comes to the use of popular platforms such as Facebook and to a lesser extent, from a Samoan perspective, Twitter.

Probably, the silly season is only confined to the social media platforms, if the quality of some of the political commentary made on some of Samoa’s most popular Facebook pages are any indication.

But early this week the country’s newest political party Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) up the stakes in the battle for political supremacy, when its 52-member party caucus elected the former Deputy Prime Minister and uncontested Lotofaga candidate Fiame Naomi Mataafa the party leader.

Her election as party leader opens a new chapter in Flame’s long political career dating back to 1985 when she first entered politics, and puts her in the box to take on the country’s longest serving head of Government and caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.

Analysis of commentary of the 2016 General Election pointed to a comfortable victory for Tuilaepa’s H.R.P.P. and that’s the way the cards fell at that time, to further entrench the power of the ruling party.

Fiame and F.A.S.T. party founder La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt played a big part in the success of the ruling party over those years. 

But their widely publicised fallout with Tuilaepa over legislation and leadership style and their establishment of the F.A.S.T. party has changed the dynamics of this year’s General Election and leveled the playing field for opposition parties.

Amid the political campaigns and fiery debate mainly driven by H.R.P.P. Members on the floor of the last Parliament, until its dissolution last Wednesday, observers couldn’t help but notice the tone of the language used and the absence of decorum during the sessions over the six week period.

Even former Attorney General and senior counsel, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu recoiled at what she described as a “hostile, aggressive and abusive” environment fanned by legislators in Samoa’s highest law-making body, during discussions on women and political participation at the National University of Samoa on Monday.

Therefore, the words of congratulations that the caretaker Prime Minister passed on to his former deputy during his weekly programme on TV3 on Wednesday, is a breath of fresh air following weeks of emotionally charged political rhetoric.

"Of the four of them, Fiame is the best choice," said Tuilaepa. 

"We have worked with Fiame for a very long time, more than 30 years; since 1985 during Tofilau [Eti Alesana's] time, it has been 36 years.

"She is very knowledgeable."

But then we are reminded that the caretaker Prime Minister has been plying his trade as a politician for 40 years, and extra attention should be paid to his choice of words, especially when your own political fortunes are at stake.

What inclinations do you get when Tuilaepa says Fiame was the best pick to lead the F.A.S.T. party out of La’auli, Olo Fiti Vaai and Faumuina Wayne Fong when she was unanimously elected by the party’s membership?

It appears the veteran politician and caretaker head of Government has reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the oldest political strategies of ‘divide and rule’, in a bid to foment discord within the F.A.S.T. party ranks.

That is the nature of politics, even in democracies such as ours, where discord among the party faithful can lead to the disintegration of political parties. 

Ask Fiame and La’auli, they would know as former H.R.P.P. stalwarts, and would work to address any signs of discord and rebellion in their seven-month-old party.

Watching from the sidelines, eligible voters are only interested in the big picture issues of health, education, social development and equitable wealth and prosperity to drive the nation and its people forward. 

At the end of the day it should be about using political parties to promote the welfare of the people – not using the people to promote the interest of the party.

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