Politics, unending politics

To invert an old phrase made famous by America’s accidental Vice-President Gerald Ford, our long national nightmare is far from over.

The nation is this week focused on an ongoing challenge to the constitutionality of a Government decision, one that could immediately deliver a Government majority or a stalemate on the floor of the Parliament. 

But we shouldn’t be lulled into a sense of finality that might usually come with a Supreme Court decision on a constitutional issue of this magnitude. 

A decision on whether the Office of the Electoral Commissioner, advised by the Attorney General, was right to seek a warrant to add an additional seat to Parliament will indeed have short-term ramifications. 

But looming in the background are two scenarios that seem more than likely to only prolong our sense of political uncertainty, long after that case is settled. 

Namely, they are fresh elections or a Parliament whose coalitions could be readjusted as a result of electoral petitions and subsequent by-elections.

Though different in their effect they are both ideas nourished from the same root: wielding a broom through the results of the previous election to greater or lesser degrees. 

The reality is that we are looking into a future unknown.

As senior lawyer Fiona Ey recently told this newspaper, the nation’s founding legal document was obviously not drafted with close elections in mind. 

“We have no clear answer about what we do in this case,” she said last week about the country’s current stalemate.

The country’s Parliament is indeed obliged to convene within the next month, or the prescribed 45 days after the election. 

But it is not obliged to produce a Government. In such situations other parliamentary democracies have clear mechanisms to force people back to the polls to reconfigure the Legislative Assembly.

But not Samoa. Conceivably 26 members could line up on either side of the chamber, exchange pleasantries and, despite being unable to form Government, come to no clear resolution.

Fiame Naomi Mataafa was very quick out of the gates to suggest that the country should proceed quickly to convening Parliament before allowing electoral petitions to influence results as they may. 

Of course, the leader of the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party has the most gain and the last to lose from such a scenario. 

Should the court find in favour of the electoral petition that F.A.S.T. has currently mounted against the expansion of Parliament, she will be sitting on the slimmest of Parliamentary majorities. It could even give her a chance to steal a march on the political process 

And should she lose, the deadlock remains.

The leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), the caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has said he favours fresh elections.

“There is no other way [to break the deadlock] but to ask the Head of State to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections,” he said. 

But just as Fiame’s actions are the product of political self-interest nor can the H.R.P.P. leader’s statement be taken at face value either. 

There is indeed another route to electoral resolution. 

So far no electoral petitions - or challenges to the official results of seats - have been filed.

But as the Samoa Observer revealed, a total of nine electoral petitions were being prepared and compiled by several unsuccessful election candidates and their legal teams. 

We are not likely to know who is filing petitions and on what grounds until Friday - the deadline by which the legal challenges (“Five elected M.Ps safe from petitions”). 

But both parties are more than likely to be involved. 

The candidate who bested the independent who was for one hot minute this election’s putative kingmaker, Le-Ati-Laufou Alofipo F. Manase was actively considering a challenge. 

But  Le-Ati-Laufou said the decision on whether he was to challenge Tuala Iosefo Ponifasior for the seat of Gagaemauga No.1. was only to be met after the candidate met personally with Tuilaepa. 

Putative images, videos and rumours are running hot on social media purporting to show candidates having breached provisions against treating and bribery. What kind of evidence either party has accumulated on the other’s candidates and is holding in secret could prove legally explosive.

When asked if he was prepared for electoral petitions the deputy leader of F.A.S.T. Laauli Leuatea Polataivao told the Samoa Observer he was both unconcerned and prepared. 

“It doesn’t matter, we will also counter. We are prepared to counter anyone that comes across to our numbers, we will be prepared for that," he said. 

“It doesn’t worry me. We’ll see them in court.”

The Supreme Court has apparently given itself two months to hear these petitions. 

But of course, such a timeline will be subject to the number and intricacies of the cases involved.

And if there are decisive outcomes to these cases, the by-elections on which they rest will take months out from here to stage and decide. 

In 2011, it took nearly five months for by-election results to transpire after a general election.

As we hang on the results of a case before the courts, we could well be settling in for months in which only one thing will rule Samoa: uncertainty. 

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