La'auli's exit, Tuilaepa and a test of the H.R.P.P's foundation
On Monday when Samoa commemorated her 58th Independence Day with a public holiday, something quite significant was happening at the Maota o Samoa at Vaitele with regards to the political landscape of this country.
The occasion was the official announcement of the resignation by long serving and senior Member of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.). In doing so, Laauli is now an Independent Member of Parliament.
Truth be told, it wasn’t exactly breaking news or anything of the sort. We say this because the writing had been on the wall ever since Prime Minister and H.R.P.P. leader, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, declared that La’auli had already been removed from the party. So the announcement by La’auli was inevitable and it was only a matter of time.
Let’s also remember that La’auli’s resignation from the party was preceded by his first resignation from Cabinet three years ago when he stepped down as the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
At the time, La’auli, some of his business associates and his wife had just been charged in relation to a business he and another senior H.R.P.P. member, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, were involved with. The dispute has been well detailed in the media and at the time, La’auli felt it was the right thing to do to relent his Ministerial duties, despite protesting his innocence.
“I declare that only God knows the truth,” he said. “I claim my innocence and I can categorically state I am clean of all the things that I have been accused of.”
This was in 2017. Things haven’t really been the same since then for the former Speaker of Parliament. It goes without saying that his resignation from the H.R.P.P., or his acceptance of Tuilaepa’s sacking, is only the latest development in what has been a long drawn out saga between the Member of Parliament and the H.R.P.P. leader.
But what exactly has he done this time? If La’auli was not removed because of what were said to be extremely serious allegations in 2017, what sin could he have now possibly committed to justify the full force of Tuilaepa and the party's wrath?
Well as far as we can see, all La’auli did was vote against the Constitutional Amendment Bill in 2019 which redefined the electoral boundaries for many constituencies in Samoa – including his. This did not sit well with Prime Minister Tuilaepa who said La’auli’s vote against the party’s wishes was his resignation.
“We have an agreement, a written agreement,” Tuilaepa said.
“Before you become a member, we have an agreement where you pledge your allegiance to the party. That agreement is your commitment that you will not do anything to harm the party. So once you do something to harm the party, you have made a decision on yourself.”
Tuilaepa insisted that every member of the H.R.P.P. is aware of this.
“When matters pertaining to the Constitution are raised where amendments are needed, no one is allowed to (vote against the party’s position). This is where this agreement comes into play,” Tuilaepa explained. “It’s quite clear in the agreement that when you enter the party, you will support the party and do what the party wants and that you will not embarrass the political party.
“This is why the H.R.P.P. is strong because of its unity. If we don’t do this now, this will be the beginning of the destruction of this party because others will say; well nothing has been done to him so I can try too.”
That was last year. Fast forward to Monday this week, La’auli finally broke his silence about his vote and his exit from the H.R.P.P.
“That was the decision [from my constituency] last month but I had held on to it until a later time because I feel that we should not be distracted from the pandemic,” he said. “I will not hide behind the shadow of the tree about the instructions I was given, I will be leaving [H.R.P.P.] to set up a new political party.”
Now that’s interesting isn’t it? Which is why what happened on Monday was quite significant. Whether it was a coincidence that La’auli chose Independence Day of all the days to make his announcement, who knows?
What we do know is that La’auli, for all his shortcomings and faults like everyone else, is not just any member of the H.R.P.P. La’auli has been an integral part of the party since he entered politics.
But his story and affiliations to the H.R.P.P. are much deeper through his family. La’auli comes from a bloodline of founding members of the H.R.P.P which included his ancestors, Tiapili Fritz Schmidt, Unasa Lio Schmidt and the most recent being his father, Polataivao Fossie Schmidt, who was widely known as “King Pola.”
La’auli’s decision to resign from the H.R.P.P. would not have been an easy one, especially when you and your family have devoted more than 40 years to a cause. It would have taken a lot of courage and conviction on his part to finally find the strength to say enough is enough.
If anything, it just goes to show how volatile and unbearable the climate within the ruling H.R.P.P. is on the back of so many recent controversial developments.
But then that’s what we can expect when one political party and its leadership feel that they are invincible. With all that power, Tuilaepa has already threatened Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa to resign. Faumuina Wayne Fong has also been given the ultimatum. Obviously anyone else who doesn’t toe the Tuilaepa and party line would face a similar fate.
Now look at all the people Tuilaepa continues to threaten and treat like his “kids.” Think about what, where and whom they represent when it comes to the H.R.P.P. The issue here is bigger than La’auli, Fiame and Faumuina. We are talking about some of the biggest founding families of this party. This cannot be taken lightly.
Samoa is watching with a lot of interest.
Tuilaepa is treading on sensitive and dangerous grounds. Are we seeing the foundation of the party being shaken up from within?