Govt. must rise above it; swear-in H.R.P.P.

We understand completely why the new Speaker of Parliament, Papali'i Li'o Ta'eu-Masipau, decided against swearing in the 18 Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Members of Parliament-elect. The logic behind his decision is compelling and it is justified. 

And so we now say, advisedly, he should reverse his decision and allow them to be sworn in. To develop our culture of democracy, which has festered under the rule of leaders such as Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, will recall making uncomfortable concessions to them when they behave poorly.

It will require for the Government to go high when its opponents go low for its own good and the nation's.

Tuilaepa is the alpha and the omega of what if a self-created crisis; his aim has been to sow instability as much as possible during the early days of the new Government and he did so in a way that was planned with precision.

The legalities surrounding Papali'i’s decision, like so much of the nation’s political crisis this year, take us into charted political waters. 

The constitution is largely silent on the question of when an elected candidate must be sworn into office - with one big exception.

That Parliament convenes and is sworn in 45 days of a general election. That much is black and white.

More than anyone else the H.R.P.P. were part of a coordinated effort to evade this requirement of the constitution and do it unlawfully.

They had been instructed by the Supreme Court a day prior to the crucial 45th day of Parliament to convene a sitting of Parliament and swear their oaths.

Tuilaepa did all he could to have the order to meet and be sworn in disobeyed. Now he is complaining about being stripped of his vote and taking legal action. 

The Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, on that final 45th day, despite finding a locked building, they realised they were obliged as the majoritarian party to form a Government. They did so on the lawns of Parliament.

In doing so they opened themselves to several jibes and jokes from Tuilaepa.

But the Court of Appeal rewarded such a regard for the law from a political party when it ruled that swearing-in valid. Tuilaepa and all who had boycotted the event had missed the boat.

Having failed - and conspired to fail - to meet a constitutional requirement that would have had them sworn in, the H.R.P.P. would seem  in quite a bind.

But they did not act that way. Outside the 45 day requirement, the law is silent on when the Speaker must act to swear these elected members in or have their seats declared void.

Negotiating with someone in this position would make most people realise they are in a position of weakness and adopt some humility.

Tuilaepa did the opposite. Since losing power, the H.R.P.P. had made it clear that they intended to be a disruptive force.

Tuilaepa demanded that all 18 H.R.P.P. M.P.s be sworn in by the Head of State. That is a break with the rules of Parliament which makes it clear that is the Speaker’s responsibility.

It sends a clear message: I do not recognise your Government as legitimate. 

For the H.R.P.P. to treat a high office of Government with such disrespect and then protest when it does not deliver them the attitude they want reeks of entitlement.

But it also probably plays into the hands of the H.R.P.P. and damages broader Samoan democracy.

The first ever national budget released in Samoa’s political history by a new party on Tuesday was an event that has been almost entirely overshadowed by these antics.

How much discussion has been had about matters of politics in the day after the budget was delivered and how much about the sideshow of his own making that Tuilaepa was busy inflaming.

The upheaval has brought with it the involvement of the nation’s top denominations.

Reverend Bismark Tamati knelt before the Parliament and pleaded with the Speaker to allow Samoa’s unsworn M.P.s into the building to negotiate. The image of a man of God lying prone before the Parliament was a powerful one.

The decision also denies representation for the constituents who make up 18 Samoan electorates and deserve their say on serious matters of state.

Outside the Parliament the unsworn H.R.P.P. 18 are able to cling to a narrative of exclusion and suppression (one that they self-authored but which is mere detail).

Inside Parliament H.R.P.P. will almost certainly bring the same planned chaos. 

But it will also be Samoa’s first experience with competitive democracy; there is no bad time to seize that evolution in our politics.

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