The power of one

By The Editorial Board 11 April 2021, 9:00AM

And so after all that it may well boil down to this.

So many weeks of campaigning later and the nation appears to be in a political deadlock, one that can be broken only by one future Member of Parliament. 

This is a feature of Parliamentary Government that can produce unpleasant results or reflect democratic values in their purest form. The decision of Friday’s electoral dead heat could yet go either away. 

All else being equal - pending the final counting of votes, legal challenges and unforeseen obstacles - the fate of the nation for the next five years rests on the shoulders of one man after both major parties appear to be sitting on 25 votes apiece. 

But there are 51 constituencies across the country. The tiebreaker, or 51st vote, belongs to an M.P. already being dubbed the ‘kingmaker’: the candidate for Gagaemauga No. 1, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, who appears to have claimed his seat in a landslide. 

Such is the way when an election designed to solicit the views of as many voters as possible comes down to the wire. 

It may seem unusual but Tuala exercising a casting vote is the only democratic way to break the deadlock.

The integrity which he does so depends entirely on Tuala and the reasons he chooses to lend budgetary support to one of the two deadlocked parties. 

Until that resolution is reached, Tuala is likely to be the most popular man in Samoa right now.

Representatives from the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) and Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) have been knocking on his door as we reveal in today's edition. 

F.A.S.T.’s leader, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, visibly bristled on Friday night when we asked if she or any party representatives had spoken to Tuala or what she might ask of him. 

She told us she’d much sooner discuss her communication schedule directly with Tuala than with this newspaper.

We interviewed Tuala ourselves on Friday morning and received no confirmation of reports that he was preparing to meet with Samoa's caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

But politics ultimately boils down to a game whose only rules are arithmetic and that in itself is enough to tell us that both parties will, in their own ways, be wooing Tuala. Inducements, in the form of promises and positions of all kinds, are likely to be offered in exchange for his vote.

When he spoke to the Samoa Observer at 10 am on Saturday he said that he did not want to make a comment to the media until he had a conference with representatives from all the villages in his district. 

It is understood that Tuala initially endorsed F.A.S.T. when the election was first announced but nominated as an independent candidate, for his third tilt at Parliament, on the wishes of his constituents. 

On Friday night’s tie, he was singing a decidedly non-partisan tune. 

Tuala told Radio Samoa that he was not leaning either way on the issue of whom to support. 

"For now, there is no intention or feeling about that, I have been awaiting the results of the elections, waiting to see where the country will vote," he said.

"This will have to go back to my constituency of Gagaemauga No.1 for discussions.

“This will not be my decision or what I think, it will go back to my constituency for their decision on what to do."

This is one rare occasion on which we might praise a politician both for not speaking plainly about their stance on an issue but also for changing their minds.  

Tuala’s remarks are a good sign of the democratic process. They show he understands that this election is bigger than he is and the spirit of democracy does not endow him with the personal power of choice. So too, does the fact that he made his decision about which party to align himself with during the nomination process.

Although solitary ‘kingmakers’ such as Tuala rarely emerge from nationwide democratic contests, this is a position of power without precedent in other much larger democracies in our region.

As Samoa enters into unknown political territory, these examples remind us of the right way and the wrong way to wield power with such lasting influence on a national stage.

The now-deceased Australian Senator, Brain Harradine was, like Tuala, able to wield a huge amount of power with just one seat.

Hailing from Australia’s smallest state, Mr. Harradine used his status as a true kingmaker to help the Government in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars funding for the state of Tasmania.

We urge Tuala, a three-time candidate for office, to resist the temptation to use his position as a bargaining chip to gain advantages for the villages in Gagaemauga No. 1.

That does not mean the constituents should not have any input into the future of the nation. But their overwhelming decision should be guided by a belief in what is right. 

Both parties in the middle of the current deadlock have clearly laid out plans for their vision for Samoa’s future, and each is led by someone with a long-established track record in public life. 

Tuala and the villages in his seat have plenty of history before them to discuss and deliberate before coming to an informed decision. 

Gagaemauga No. 1 is just one of Samoa’s constituencies.

This election may have given it unusual significance and power. But the seat is bound tightly to the country's 50 other constituents by a much deeper concept: Samoan nationhood. That puts the significance of a five-year Parliamentary term in its proper perspective. 

The district must make their decision about which party they believe can govern Samoa best. That is a judgment that must only be decided upon by a process of deliberation within the villages that make up the district - not outside it. 

By The Editorial Board 11 April 2021, 9:00AM
Samoa Observer

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