Closed doors lead nowhere

As the country settles in to a game of waiting for the final vote count, the movements of each candidate and party will be of interest to voters and observers of our election.

So far, in this newspaper, we have been working through candidate profiles and reactions on the preliminary results as well as general happenings surrounding this most exciting time in the country.

It doesn’t take superhuman levels of deduction to see that winners are more agreeable and willing to talk than the losers, and that is true whether it’s a game of rugby or elections.

Take for example, the different approaches by the two main political parties who are currently in a state of limbo over who shall be declared majority in Parliament.

On the one side, you have F.A.S.T. (Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi), the new party, breaking records, expectations and a few hearts; on the other, you have H.R.P.P. (Human Rights Protection Party) coming to terms with their first round knock-down and loss of 22 seats.

We say 22 seats because their historic win in 2016 of 47 seats were celebrated as a milestone at the time and was irrefutable evidence of the confidence the nation had in the party.

Fast forward to 2021 and those 47 seats were whittled down to 25. Again, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that this means a loss in confidence in the once-powerful party.

As in the game of musical-chairs seen with our rugby coaches over the last decade, where failures and loss of confidence meant the end of the road, should we expect the same change in leadership from the former powerhouse?

Predictably, F.A.S.T. is basking in the attention and praise being heaped upon them.

And who can blame them? That’s what winners do. That’s what the H.R.P.P. did 5 years ago when they just about claimed all Parliamentary seats.

F.A.S.T. are sharing their thoughts and reflecting on their journey as individuals and as a party. Everywhere you turn there’s a story or an interview, or a social media post about F.A.S.T., their candidates and their leadership.

They are the hot ticket, for the moment, and who can blame them for striking while the iron is hot – endearing themselves to the public and overseas observers.

On the other side of the proverbial aisle, the H.R.P.P. has chosen to go with a stoic, secret-society type of silence as a general post-election strategy.

The decision to do so is somewhat understandable. Who would want to open themselves up to criticism and scrutiny? Especially if your party has been at the top of the food chain for many, many years.

Well, if you were running your own family business, then perhaps you could take that route and be forgiven.

But you’re not. You are elected representatives and should be accountable to the citizens of Samoa. Remaining silent, especially during a tense election period, is unacceptable.

Being criticised is hard, but it comes with the job and allows for checks and balances. And that is where newspapers come in.

Being transparent and accountable is not a selective process of your choosing. Ignoring that very basic tenet of good governance is what has led to the H.R.P.P.’s decline in dominance.

And it doesn’t matter if election petitions work in their favour, the damage has already been done and confidence has been diminished.

It would appear they have learned nothing from their pre-election campaign failures; taking for granted and assuming that voters would avail themselves of their memory banks and rediscover why they deserve to win.

As the saying goes, “you are only as good as your last win”.

And unfortunately, dear readers, the H.R.P.P. are falling behind on points when it comes to the all-important Team Spirit award. Except for a brief press conference late on Election Day, the country has heard very little from our caretaker leaders and their party’s winning candidates.

While we can forgive a general desire to be conservative when it comes to making major announcements and reacting to every tiny development in the vote count; we cannot forgive, nor should this country accept, a wall of silence from elected leaders.

Transparency is absolutely vital in any Government and more so during elections. The Office of the Electoral Commission has done their part to ensure the integrity of the elections, so it should follow that party officials do the same.

It is bewildering then to see vastly different strategies being employed by both main parties.

We wonder at the wisdom of closing the doors to the media, public and most importantly – voters.

Do your own supporters and the rest of Samoa, not deserve to be kept in the loop or be acknowledged from time to time during these tense waiting periods?

Maintaining confidentiality and holding political cards close to the chest is one thing; but being transparent and including the people of Samoa in the processes of decision-making, or just trusting them to be able to come to their own logical conclusions, is another.

The party’s strategy not to engage the public, or openly discuss contentious issues as part of the election campaign process, hugely contributed to their loss of seats.

And as bizarre as it may seem, they are continuing with this stubborn formula of secrecy and need-to-know, showing an archaic patriarchal mindset that will continue to do them no favours.

There may be a few cards up the sleeves of the H.R.P.P. leaders, after all… you don’t remain in power for decades without a few aces tucked away, and time will tell of any negotiations being made to secure seats and party supremacy.

But in the meantime, their silence becomes a blank canvas just waiting to be painted in all the colours of our assumptions.

And doesn’t the nation deserve better than that?

The party-silence is their choice, but it’s also to their detriment.

You cannot deny that there has been a monumental shift in social dynamics in recent months, e.g. border closures, recession leading to job losses, the monolithic E.F.K.S. Church supporting F.A.S.T, and others.

All the frustrations of being stuck behind closed borders, failing businesses, job losses, angry and vengeful Church – these frustrations need to be directed somewhere, and what better target than Government.

And what is the best way to deal with angry, frustrated people?

It’s not silence. It’s listening, and talking through the issues.

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