Tuilaepa: an incapable democrat
The pursuit of politicians by journalists is a funny thing.
Reporters spend their time assiduously noting and questioning everything a leader says hoping for a rare glimpse into the guarded personality and motivations of politicians.
And then, just like that, a singular remark can cast them in a whole new aspect.
So it was with caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi in an interview published in the Wednesday edition of the Samoa Observer (“Appointed by God”: Tuilaepa”).
It wasn’t a difficult question or a penetrating issue that revealed Tuilaepa’s view of himself as a man standing atop of Samoan politics unchallenged; a man who has no respect for the judiciary, an equal branch of power, vested with equal powers as he, as his equals.
His comments referred to what was, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively small political protest movement by the Samoa Solidarity International Group last week provided a penetrating insight into the way in which Tuilaepa considers himself above the law.
One hundred people gathered to sing and dance outside the courthouse to sing and dance and call upon the caretaker Prime Minister to step down.
They drew a reaction much greater from the target of their protest than they likely ever intended when he sat down for an exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer on Saturday.
Why, he asked our reporter, were the protesters bothering to petition outside the courts? The courts, he said were irrelevant to the conduct of Samoan politics.
“I am appointed by God [to lead this country] if they want me to step down," he told the Samoa Observer.
"They should go to a church and pray instead of protesting in front of the courthouse. The judiciary has no authority over my appointment as Prime Minister.
“Tuilaepa appealed to the S.S.I.G. “to protest through prayers on bended knees inside a church.
“The problem is, I do not appoint myself and even if they do want to protest [in front of our building] they are going to the wrong place. They need to go to a church,” Tuilaepa reiterated.”
But almost never has the Prime Minister spoken so revealingly about how melded he has become with the institutions of the Government of Samoa itself and how much authority he carries over anyone in his way.
The nation has been plunged into a constitutional crisis and the caretaker Prime Minister has shown himself to be utterly incapable of solving it in a constitutional fashion.
He makes no secret of this fact when he says such things as: “The judiciary has no authority over my appointment as Prime Minister.”
Prime Minister, we beg to differ and we suggest you read the constitution of the Independent State of Samoa to educate yourself to an elementary level on this matter.
In fact, the judiciary is sitting in judgment at the present moment about whether or not you are to get your way and have a second election or a Government-initiated hung Parliament and it is up to you to respect their decisions.
Because of remarks and actions like these Samoa is headed towards an international reputation that places it among the world’s least respected banana republics.
The caretaker Prime Minister’s political philosophy belongs somewhere between the Roman Empire and the reign of Henry VIII.
These are not the words of a modern democratic Prime Minister.
And it is through this prism that we should view recent Prime Ministerial decisions such as convening a special task force to investigate banning an entire forum of media used by tens of thousands of people because it is politically congenial to him.
In democracies, Prime Ministers are first among equals; members of Parliament just like others; capable of losing their seats just like others; and capable of having their decisions kept in check by the cabinet or another branch of Government just like others.
A man who believes himself answerable only to the divine could have overseen the recent dismantling of the independence of the judiciary which we saw in December with the complete overhaul of the nation’s judiciary.
He made it easier for the Judicial Services Commission - a body staffed by his appointees - to fire a member of the Supreme Court, something previously only a supermajority of the Parliament could ever do.
Now he is agitating for the proverbial second bite of the cherry with a snap election after he lost a 9 April poll until a Government Ministry intervened to increase the size of Parliament and engineer a tie.
The court has already been burdened with both a constitutional crisis and an attempt to relieve it of its proper democratic role to decide the winner of the 9 April election.
With an election fewer than 10 days away now impossible conditions have been foisted upon the court to decide upon complicated constitutional questions such as whether the Head of State has the power to dissolve a Parliament and call an election before it has even met (we believe plainly he does not).
That is not to mention the other questions with which it has been burdened, all of which bear Tuilaepa’s fingerprints, such as whether expanding the size of the Parliament after the election to create a tie was constitutionally valid.
The Prime Minister no longer bothers to hide his contempt for the courts.
His administration has set up the judiciary to fail in this and it is clear that the caretaker Prime Minister does not give a damn.
The revelation he pays it no respect all is we need to know about how incapable he will be at solving the current political crisis without badly damaging our democracy.