Our democracy's day of shame

Saturday evening brought shame upon Samoa's system of Government.  

An order by the Head of State, revoking his own decision to convene the XVII Parliament made just days earlier was issued at the unusual hour of 9 pm.

There are no ambiguities about this decision: it is a full-frontal attack on democracy and the rule of law in Samoa. 

“I Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, Head of State pursuant to my authority as the Head of State of Samoa, including Article 52 of the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, I hereby suspend my proclamation for the official opening of the XVIIth Parliament dated 20 May, 2021 until such time as to be announced and for reasons that I will make known in due course," his proclamation read.

The nation and the Head of State both have undergone extensive lessons in constitutional law in recent weeks, so the absence of reasons accompanying His Highness’ attempt to override the rule of law is deeply troubling. 

But his latest order seems to follow a pattern of attempts to frustrate the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party and the nation’s first female Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa from being sworn in. 

Since the 9 April election, Samoa has been living under conditions of political uncertainty, many of which have been generated by the Head of State himself by signing warrants or issuing orders that make it impossible for a Government to form. 

But this week that all changed when the judiciary swung into action and overruled both those orders in two Supreme Court rulings issued on Monday.

The court found His Highness' declaration order early this month calling for a second snap election - which had been scheduled for last Friday - “was not issued under any legal authority” and was declared void.

The Court of Appeal dismissed a stay of execution motion which would have allowed Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau to be sworn in as an additional M.P. upon Parliament’s scheduled swearing in next week.

The revocation of Aliimalemanu’s seat was an assertion by the Court of Appeal of its power in a democratic system. 

And it was clear that a 22 year Government led by Tuilaepa was now out of options. Legal ones at least. 

Several things are deeply concerning about his decision to cancel a planned swearing-in of Parliament for this coming Monday.

The first is breaking a promise. 

His Highness has signed a writ confirming Parliament would convene on Monday. That was a promise to the people of Samoa; its voters; and its democracy.

For it to be unwound two days later at 9 pm with no justification provided is deeply troubling. 

The Head of State owes the people of Samoa an explanation for a decision of this magnitude. 

But to breached his constitutional authority less than a week after it was explicitly spelled out is even more concerning. 

On Monday the Supreme Court “directed” the “attention” of the Head of State to his obligation under the Constitution to convene Parliament within 45 days of the nation’s most recent election. 

The final possible day for that to occur is this coming Monday.

Saturday night’s proclamation, revoking without reason an order for Parliament to sit on this coming Monday has crossed a line; it unaccountably violates the constitution. 

Regardless of one’s political leanings, the constitutional requirement to convene Parliament within 45 days of an election is an unmistakably clear provision in the constitution. 

So, having just received a reminder of the limits of his authority, why has the Head of State again sought to delay the swearing-in of a new Government?

We have not been told. 

The Head of State is seeking to take Samoa down the path of breaching the constitution and giving the people no justification for doing so despite his conducting the greatest violation of democratic principles in a generation. 

Of course, F.A.S.T. is heading back to the courthouse and will ask the judiciary to again assert its power and uphold the constitution.  

It seems likely that what is, in many respects, a repeat of Monday’s verdicts that the court will find His Highness’ order is a breach of constitutional law and will probably be struck out. 

But the Head of State, after a week of legal challenges, knew that already.

What concerns us most is what happens now for our Government that the Head of State has sought to violate the constitution and ignore the people's will.

The weak legal ground on which his decision stands leaves very few options for making his decision stick. None of the alternatives are palatable - and none are peaceful. 

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