Now is no time for disunity

With his extremely reluctant acceptance of the election results former Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, said that he was stepping down to “keep the peace”.

But one week since he made those remarks they have been repeatedly contradicted by a protest movement seeking to sabotage a democratically elected Government and sow division at a time when we should be coming together. 

Tuilaepa described a Court of Appeal ruling that found he was no longer Samoa’s lawful Prime Minister as “bizarre” but said that for the sake of national peace he would agree to step down.  

(The revelation that he no longer had a moral claim to being the country’s leader had been obvious to most after he lost a democratic election). 

But he presented the decision to stand down as one of selflessness; that he was only relinquishing power with Samoa’s best interests at heart. 

It was presented not as a direct consequence of the country’s highest court ruling that he had been, for two months, illegally occupying the office of “caretaker Prime Minister” but rather a choice made with the national interest at heart.

(Suggesting that obeying a Court of Appeal decision was merely an option for Tuilaepa is a penetrating glimpse into the personal power the former Prime Minister believes himself to have)

“We believe it is important that we remain calm,” he said in the hours after the decision was handed down. 

But in the week since he made those remarks, Tuilaepa has done nothing but sow discord and divide the nation.

And he has done so at a time when we should be coming together to wish our new Government the best for the welfare of Samoa and our people. 

In the last week there have been three protests aimed at the legitimacy of the judiciary and, by extension, the new Government all initiated by Tuilaepa himself.

By what definition this amounts to keeping the peace we cannot say.

But before we analyse the impact of these protests let us first look at their power.

Last Wednesday an estimated 500 people gathered at the H.R.P.P. headquarters.

Last Friday an estimated 200 vehicles participated in a “convoy” that drove through the nation’s villages before converging on Mulinu'u where a victory celebration of sorts was held. 

(Exactly what had been achieved worth celebrating is highly questionable, other than the disruption of some court proceedings and clogging the streets with traffic).

And then on Monday more than 1000 people gathered outside the Government building to protest what they claimed was the “disintegration” of the constitution. 

First - some important mathematics. 

These movements, coordinated and colourful, as they are, are eye-catching but what segment of the population do they really represent?

Let us take, for instance, the convoy, last week’s centrepiece protest against the Government. Lest we be accused of bias let’s be extremely generous with our numbers. 

It was reported that 200 vehicles joined the convoy; let’s more than double that and round it up to 500 to be generous.

According to figures provided by the Land Transport Authority for 2017-2018 fiscal year - likely to be highly outdated but still a reasonable guide - there were 23, 661 cars on Samoa’s roads. 

With our generous assumptions built in that equates to 2.1 per cent of Samoans with cars and a far lower percentage of Samoan voters. 

As for the demonstrations on foot. Again, being generous let us assume that there was no crossover between the 500 people who showed up at the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) headquarters on Wednesday with the estimated 10000 who marched on the Government building on Monday. 

Even doubling that figure to 3000 to ensure that there is absolutely no possibility of undercounting, we come to a total of just over 3.5 per cent of people who cast their ballots in the last election.

These demonstrators are achieving the ends of protest organisers. They are clogging the streets, causing disruption and giving the misleading impression that discontent about the election is widespread. 

But in the context of an entire nation it is clear that they represent a tiny fraction of voters concerned.

Recently those assembled have been turning their ire towards the court in utterly misguided displays of anger.

Perhaps one of the most ironic demonstration placards being brandished on Monday was a plea for: "Constitutional Government not Judicial Government".

On what basis did the judiciary make their determination that the Head of State had failed in his legal obligation to convene Parliament within 45 days if not the clause in the constitution that says he is obliged to do so?

But signs such as the above suggest that this protest “movement” is not one whose participants are likely to be persuaded by rational debate. They are simply angry that their party lost.

Setting aside any quibbles one might have with the courts’ rulings, there is the simple fact that the H.R.P.P. lost the 9 April election. That is a fact to which no placard can offer a comeback. The democratic scoreboard is the ultimate source of a Government’s legitimacy. 

So why has the leader of the opposition, so soon after declaring his intention to maintain peace in Samoa, been devoting himself to creating the opposite?

We can see no rational reason other than to create the illusion of havoc and discontent; to make the job of governing the country harder than it ought to be.

There is a time for political criticism and a place: Parliament. 

But the conclusions of national elections should be a moment for bringing people together. 

Some people may belong to political parties but we would hope that they define themselves first and foremost as Samoans.

By appealing to these base tribal divisions, Tuilaepa is achieving not just a broader political goal but he is creating disagreements and discord within families and villages.

The formation of a new Government should not be a moment for disputes. 

Regardless of one’s partisan political leanings, we should all wish every new Government the best in the same way that we wish Samoa the best. They are, after all, tasked with raising the standards of living for every Samoan and improving their livelihoods. 

Trying to hinder their ability to achieve that even before they have entered Parliament is not just a disruption of peace but an attack on the unity of a nation. 

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