Democracy's rules non-negotiable

Having the political leaders who have been standing on opposite sides of the nation’s ongoing constitutional crisis make face-to-face contact and negotiations was in some ways a welcome sign. 

 Nearly two months since April’s election, all political communication has been defined by attacks, slurs, and damaging statements about democracy. 

Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mataafa going to the Government building to meet her counterpart on Thursday was a powerful symbol that we may be moving towards civilising Samoan politics. 

But apart from presenting a display of change from negative political campaigning, there are few promising signs to have arisen from Thursday’s meeting between the two party leaders which leaves question marks hanging over how productive Monday’s second round negotiation will be.

What the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) or the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) discussed is not known. 

But the following day Fiame made it clear that the caretaker Prime Minister’s resolve to stop any loss, even a temporary one, of his grip on power was a major roadblock to negotiations.

As is reported in today’s paper Fiame said that Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi appeared keen to explore any solution but that directed to him repeatedly by the rule of law. Namely, she referred to multiple court decisions prompting him to acknowledge he lost the election and to allow the Parliament to convene and face the music.

"[It's] as if he is almost saying, let’s leave the rule of law altogether,” Fiame said.

“But the reason why he wants to put the laws aside is due to the fact that the courts continue to say, no, F.A.S.T. won the general election. 

“Now he is seeking cultural solutions and solutions from the religious denominations; but I personally think that there’s no need for that, the rule of law is sufficient.”

How successful negotiations can proceed from here is unknown. But Tuilaepa said he was confident that over the course of several meetings a consensus might be reached.

But a major sticking point for Tuilaepa was apparently refusing to acknowledge his deficit and refusing to consent to Parliament convening at least until after post-election legal challenges are heard, a delay that will potentially give him a chance to gain more seats and maintain his period in power.

“In our view, we cannot make a decision before the activation of the sixth seat. And there are ways we can make this work to fulfil our duties as stipulated under the constitution,” he said.

But we find the idea that it is up to political figures, rather than the law, to interpret the law and determine the course of democracy objectionable.

Doing so has resulted in violations of the supreme law of the land but also, as Tuilaepa recently said, the most powerful force in politics: basic arithmetic.

The numbers are plain: F.A.S.T. holds 26 seats compared; the H.R.P.P. 25.

In most functioning democracies outgoing and incoming leaders do meet in order to brief each other on key issues and smooth the transfer of power.

But until he is prepared to acknowledge the simple fact of F.A.S.T.’s majority in Parliament, it is difficult to see how Tuilaepa can have a productive discussion about moving forward.

Tuilaepa previously said forming Government was deeply pressing while advocating for a second election to be held, because the business of Government could not be delayed but now he seems comfortable approaching negotiations at a languid pace. 

Through a boycott and behind the scenes manoeuvring Tuilaepa actively breached the constitution and a court order that Parliament convenes within 45 days of an election last month. 

 The nation is increasingly tired of court drama in the wake of an election in which the people spoke with their votes. 

But as wearying as court cases are, we believe there is no other option other than having independent jurists determine how Government should form rather than self-interested politicians. 

Skilful negotiators know the tactical value of making a high initial offer.

But this is not a used car sale or a payrise negotiation. It is the future of Samoa’s Government; decisions about when and how Parliament should sit should be made in accordance with the law, not a backroom deal. 

Tuilaepa has repeatedly shown disdain toward the constitution and the judiciary over the past two months.

In response to a small protest outside Parliament last month he said he was "appointed by God" to lead and that the judiciary has no authority over his appointment. 

This may well be the caretaker Prime Minister’s sincerely held view but it is not part of the constitution, the document which he is obliged to uphold. 

So far Tuilaepa, by contrast, has been an immovable object doing all he can to frustrate the formation of a democratically elected Government.

The negotiations the nation are most in need of right now are discussions internal to the H.R.P.P. to develop a workable strategy around the deficit of numbers they face in Parliament. Acknowledging that will be the only means for both the party and the nation to move forward.

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