The swearing-in ceremony and party vulnerabilities
You would be forgiven for assuming Wednesday’s swearing-in of the Attorney-General at the official residence of the Head of State was just another normal Government event.
In fact it could have, if you’ve followed the pomp and the protocols associated with similar ceremonies in the past years, hosted by the Head of State on behalf of the Government of the day.
But there was something different about the swearing-in of the Attorney-General Su’a Hellene Wallwork-Lamb, overseen by the Head of State, His Highness, Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II and witnessed by Samoa’s first woman Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her Cabinet Ministers.
It felt like the ambience of the occasion had an overwhelming effect on everyone present that morning. The meet and greet and the camaraderie between the various officials, who only a few months ago sat at the opposite ends of Samoa’s political divide between the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.), was so noticeable yet unbelievable.
The months-long constitutional crisis, which engulfed the nation since the end of the April general election when the H.R.P.P. leader and former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi refused to concede defeat, seemed like a far distant memory.
There is no doubt the faasamoa played a big part in ensuring national solidarity and friendship, such as that we witnessed on Wednesday.
So was the swearing-in ceremony the ice breaker that Samoa’s democracy desperately needed following the installation of the F.A.S.T. Government by the Court of Appeal in July this year?
It probably was, if you consider the fact that the meeting on Wednesday between the Head of State and the new Cabinet Ministers was their first, since the new F.A.S.T. Government came to power.
And throw in next Tuesday’s historical opening of the XVII Legislative Assembly and we must say the timing couldn’t have been better.
The country needs certainty and stability, following one of the most tumultuous periods in our 59-year history, and the appointment of a new Attorney-General and the first sitting of a new Parliament to kick start a new parliamentary term is a much needed booster shot to the rule of law and democracy in this country.
But has the evolution of our democracy reached a stage where respect and appreciation of our democratic institutions should be resolute and reinforced amidst concerns of their vulnerability to human manipulation?
We ask this question while being mindful of the fate of that sole H.R.P.P. Member-elect who approached the Speaker of the House, Papalii Lio Masipau recently and asked that he be sworn-in when the Parliament convenes next Tuesday.
It takes guts to break ranks and approach a Speaker of the Parliament who is an M.P. of a rival political party, knowing fully well that could be political suicide, even before the first session of the House had started.
Nevertheless it must be nerve wrecking sitting on the sidelines and watching the H.R.P.P. leader make the call on your oaths of office, when Speaker Papalii has offered a path that is trouble-free and in line with the ruling of the Court.
Tuilaepa’s refusal to accept being sworn-in by the Speaker when the Parliament convenes next Tuesday has the potential to plunge this country again into political turmoil and would be a disservice to the people who would welcome a return to normalcy regardless of whoever is in power.
The private request to the Speaker by the sole unsworn H.R.P.P. Member also raise questions as to whether there are others within the 17 Members-elect (excluding Tuilaepa) who are also keen to get sworn-in but fear the wrath of their party leader?
Duly-elected Members-elect of our Legislative Assembly should not be constrained in whatever shape or form from participating in the democratic process by being sworn-in as elected representatives of their constituencies.
With a 41-year history, surely the country’s oldest party has evolved to allow its Members to speak independently as elected Members, and to put the welfare of their constituency and the country ahead of the party.