New parties a welcome development for democracy
The announcement of the imminent launch of a new political party to contest the 2021 general election was a welcome development for Samoan democracy.
The new party, to be spearheaded by the former Speaker, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, does not even yet have policies or a manifesto.
Our thankfulness for its arrival is, of course, not rooted in politics.
But we do support the new party’s coming into existence because we are unashamed supporters of anything that furthers the development of democracy in Samoa.
La’auli’s announcement will potentially make the forthcoming general election one of the most highly contested in decades.
Everything that develops and consolidates our democratic system is good news - and political competition is a key part of that.
There is a long way to go between now and election day, let alone the cut off for registration for new candidates, and so we must be careful of being prematurely excited, given parties’ tendencies to implode.
But we see the number of parties lining up for the general election as a very promising sign.
Opposition parties have come and gone in Samoa for the past four decades. None has amounted to much.
Aside from independent candidates, one party other than the H.R.P.P. contested the last general election: Tautua Samoa.
The same was true of the 2011 election.
In 2006, six parties, including the Samoan Democratic United Party, fielded candidates. But only four fielded more than one candidate.
They are not without their problems. But our neighbouring Pacific island countries are not beset by the same problem of lacklustre contests.
In 2014, the Solomon Islands had 14 candidates contesting elections. In its 2012 election, some 12 parties had candidates elected to Parliament.
Presuming that La'auli’s party officially registers the next election will have six different parties running for representation.
The former Speaker’s grouping will be joined by the incumbent H.R.P.P.; the Tautua Samoa; the Samoa National Democratic Party; the Samoa First Political Party; and the Sovereign Independent Samoa Party.
We wish all these parties luck in the process of signing up candidates to run under their flags.
We hope for lively local debates between in the villages that provide Samoan voters with answers to the big questions on their minds: how we can handle the current global economic shock; our place in international relations; and the potential future diversification of our economy.
Political marketplaces work best when crowded. Even bad policy ideas have the effect of provoking voters’ thoughts and strengthening the case for good ones, and it is a truism that the more policies that are generated increases the more likely it is a good one is formed.
There is a long time between today and polling day.
We are assembling the ingredients for a contested election. Whether we reach the end goal of an election campaign that engages the public and produces genuine debate about the relative merits of policy ideas remains yet to be seen.
But there is another aspect of yesterday’s announcement and the drama that preceded it that we must single out for commendation. That is Members of Parliament who regard themselves as a servant of their constituents and not an independent actor.
La'auli’s announcement, of course, came after his constituents requested he not resign from Parliament as he had announced, but to form a new political party instead.
His regard for his constituents as the most important decision-makers in the process was also the reason yesterday’s announcement fell short of a fully-fledged announcement of a new party.
The M.P. said he would not only be seeking candidates to join his new party but constituencies and villages.
“I will return to Savai’i to seek their blessings [Pule] and those candidates and constituencies that have expressed their support,” he said.
“Before the party is registered I will also seek the blessings of those in Tumua [Upolu] and the consent from the respective families and constituencies including those that will stand up to be part of this journey.”
Similarly, ousted H.R.P.P. M.P., Faumuina Wayne Fong, also deflected a presumptuous assumption that he would be joining La'auli or any opposition party: “I follow what my constituency says”.
We can never be reminded too much that politics belongs to the people.