A new House amidst party disharmony
A 158 days after the end of the 2021 general election, the 51-seat Legislative Assembly will convene on Tuesday to usher in Samoa’s new XVII parliamentary term.
The country is now in the final throes of an electoral cycle that surprised us, unlike no other, with the performance of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party exceeding expectations.
The new party's success at the polls, at the expense of longtime political novice Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), became the harbinger for a political crisis that threatened the democratic core of our foundations.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Once we have these by-elections done, one of the most contested periods in samoa's democracy is coming to a definitive close, for which we can be faithful.
And taking stock of the political crisis in the recent months following the polls, it almost feels like Tuesday’s first sitting of the House is a fresh beginning, giving our political leaders a chance to turn a new leaf, after one of the most tumultuous periods in Samoa’s 59-year history.
The nation should be grateful for the electoral cycle that our forefathers drafted into our Constitution, which has evolved since Samoa’s foundation years and kept on ticking over, to ensure universal suffrage consistently led to democratically-elected governments taking charge of our destiny.
Not many developing states have come this far in their journey of nationhood and we have a lot to be thankful for, while acknowledging that the task of nation building isn’t easy and there are challenges along the way.
So let us not let this opportunity slip by to witness Samoa’s first female Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa take her place in the Parliament, the nation’s first ever Finance Minister Mulipola Anarosa Ale Molio’o present her 2021/2022 fiscal budget and a new administration occupy the Government bench.
Not forgetting a fully-fledged Opposition in the new Parliament to scrutinise the new Government’s policies, some five years after the exit of the then Opposition party Tautua Samoa in a positive move for the country.
These are historical developments and point to a democracy very much alive and being responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.
Therefore now is not the time to create disharmony by driving a wedge through the community, with calls for affected constituencies to gather at Mulinu’u on Tuesday to coincide with the sitting of the House.
It is unacceptable for the H.R.P.P. leader Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to ask the 18 constituencies – whose unsworn Members were turned away by Speaker Papalii Lio Masipau on Monday when they asked to be sworn in – to carry the burden of that rejection when it was Tuilaepa and his party members who decided unilaterally not to attend the 24 May 2021 sitting of Parliament and thus bring upon themselves the dilemma they are currently facing.
Did Tuilaepa and his 18 unsworn Members return to their constituencies on the eve of the Parliament sitting on 24 May 2021 – in line with the orders of the Supreme Court at that time – to get the views of their voters on whether they should attend the sitting where their election as legislators would have been formalised through their swearing-in?
None of the elected and re-elected Members of the H.R.P.P. returned to their constituencies at the height of the political crisis to meet with their voters so why should the voters be lumped with the responsibility of becoming pressure groups for these politicians when the leaders didn’t consult them in the first place?
It is time for the former Prime Minister and his party members to accept responsibility for their woeful preparations for the April election, which decimated the H.R.P.P. and enabled the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party to secure the people’s mandate and thus form Government.
Failure to act now to halt the former ruling party’s further fall from grace could have implications for the 41-year-old party in the medium to long-term period with the upcoming by-elections and the 2026 general election.
Frustration by the general population at the refusal by political leaders to restore normalcy and respect the rule of law following a long-running political crisis could backfire and even lead to more losses at the ballot.