An ultimatum for the ruling party

Where will Samoa be in another week’s time? A good question considering the myriad of possible storylines we see developing before our very eyes.

For the last 10 days, the entire country has been in a state of limbo, theorizing over what the new government will look like, who will lead, who will be appointed, who will file election petitions and so on.

Although there have been a few loose ends left hanging in that time, the most glaring and most demanding of our attention has been that of Tuala “Kingmaker” Iosefo Ponifasio making his big move in this evolving election saga.

Tuala’s defining moment would be revealed on Wednesday, and would forever change the fabric of party politics.

Well, that was the consensus until the late, breaking news came through last night, declaring that an additional Member of Parliament had been elected.

To say there has been a plot twist to this saga is an understatement.

It was after 9pm when the Office of the Electoral Commission issued a warrant of election for Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau of Alataua Sisifo - signed by the Head of State, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II - and made public, on the eve of the big announcement by Tuala of his chosen party.

This places the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) with a one seat advantage over the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. At least until Tuala declares his chosen party. 

The post-election announcement came after five women were elected at the completion of the Final Count of votes last week. Despite this, the O.E.C. had confirmed on Monday this week that they were seeking legal advice on whether another woman needed to be brought in to Parliament, with questions over whether the first five women met the country’s legal threshold. 

Under the Constitution, a minimum of 10 per cent of members must be women. Based on the first five who gained election, and out of 51 seats, that came to 9.8 per cent.

The O.E.C. declared that Article 44(1a) of the Constitution has now been activated, due to the fact that only 9.8 per cent had been met.

That trifling 0.2 per cent may be the most important number yet, causing another rupture in an already contentious General Election. 

While this development may have dethroned the Kingmaker, it still places him with an immense amount of power to wield. 

Now that the Parliamentary seats are slightly in favour of the H.R.P.P., Tuala is now more important than ever to the new blood – F.A.S.T. as a thumbs up from him would set the scales back to an even 26-all.

Perhaps a new moniker is apt, no longer the Kingmaker but possibly the Dealbreaker. 

In an exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer on Tuesday, Tuala revealed his hand, disclosing that he would offer his support for the H.R.P.P., but with a steep proviso – he wants the current leader of the country, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to step down. 

As detailed in our front page exclusive “Tuala asks P.M. to step down”, the Independent member reveals what he wants the most from his time in politics.

“It goes beyond Tuilaepa,” he said. 

“Those are the things I put to Tuilaepa [to step down] because one of the things that the people are crying out for is the change.

“Not necessarily meaning change to F.A.S.T., but installing institutional change that will function well, to prosper Samoa. And part of that change and I know for sure, is that Tuilaepa cannot be in leadership.”

He has remained true to his word that he would be seeking a change to the very nature of politics itself. 

In his first exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer a day after the General Elections, Tuala said he was excited about new blood going in to Parliament, “a breath of fresh air” that he said feels like Parliament is being cleaned out.

Perhaps a premonition of his decision to come was his wish for a Government to be a Government that will work together with the opposition. 

“I’m looking at it if I can use the opportunity to negotiate something between two camps, to both make a commitment to reviewing the laws,” he told this newspaper on Tuesday. 

“Everything else is minor and it’s not about how we feel about working with people. 

“I don’t make decisions based on emotions and the next government has to remain objective and steadfast for our sake.”  

Tuala’s history-making demands following an historical election will only come as a surprise to the caretaker Government and the H.R.P.P. party-faithful. 

For everyone else, it’s been a long road to Damascus.

The pages of this newspaper have chronicled the mounting loose ends over the last four decades. More recently, we have seen and heard a growing discontent amongst the people, disconnected from the ruling powers who had taken it upon themselves to treat them as children who knew no better.

As for Tuala, perhaps his road to Damascus has been paved by 15 years’ worth of frustration as he tried time and again to enter Parliament, met at each juncture by challenges that might have easily overwhelmed a weaker mind. 

Back in 2016, Tuala and another candidate were banished from the village of Leauvaa, for filing election petitions against Sala Fata Pinati, the incumbent Member of Parliament for Gagaemauga No.1 and Minister of Police at the time. 

That was of course prior to the controversial changes that forced the realigning of electoral boundaries, affecting Tuala’s constituency by separating the Upolu enclaves of Gagaemauga from their traditional roots in Savaii. 

After his second unsuccessful attempt at entering the Legislative chambers, Tuala was taken to court and found guilty in the District Court on charges of bribery and treating. He appealed and the Supreme Court agreed with him, saying it was blatantly obvious that the motive of informants was entrapment. 

More recently he took the O.E.C. to Court over what he deemed was unfair advantage of sitting M.P.s over hopeful election candidates due to the way the monotaga requirement was worded in the electoral legislation. His subsequent victory meant a change to the wording, the compromise being he dropped the case against the O.E.C. 

It would be fair to surmise that these struggles have sharpened his focus to the specifics mentioned earlier, and allowed him to come to a fairly clear set of demands in a relatively short period of time. 

His ultimatum to the leader of the H.R.P.P. and arguably the most prominent and polarizing political figure in the region’s history, takes a certain level of bravery that has long been missing in Parliament. 

Whether he manages to strike a deal with either party, and knowing what we know about the additional seat for H.R.P.P., this story could still generate a few more heart-stopping moments before the closing credits.

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