A victory of what kind?
As we called for in these pages yesterday, the Supreme Court has ruled that the elected but unsworn Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) members be allowed into Parliament and sworn-in.
The decision overrules that of Parliament’s Speaker, Papali’i Lio Masipau, who said the party’s continual attacks on the Government’s legitimacy did not merit their inclusion in Parliament.
As we argued yesterday, the inclusion of opposition M.P.s is a victory for Samoa’s democracy, in the creation of a long-missed development of a Parliamentary culture of opposition.
But was it also a victory for the H.R.P.P.?
Central to Papali'i’s objections to swearing in the opposition members was their apparent refusal to recognise the Government as legitimate.
This disregard for their authority was most obvious by the H.R.P.P.’s prolonged dispute with Papali'i over how they should be sworn in. The party had demanded, in contravention of Parliamentary standing orders, to be sworn in by the Head of State.
It was these and other attacks on the Government’s authority that led to the Speaker’s decision to exclude the 18 unsworn H.R.P.P. members.
Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court ordering the Speaker to swear in opposition members, is being styled as a triumph for the H.R.P.P.
But really does it reality do anything more for the party than return them to square one?
Had the party, as the has now court ordered, agreed to be sworn in by the Speaker in line with Parliamentary rules, there would have been thin grounds for their exclusion.
The H.R.P.P. 18 would have been in Parliament this week, not outside generating a distraction.
It seemed as though the party had dared the Speaker not to swear them in a political play designed to capture public attention.
The protest to the Speaker’s decision we saw on Wednesday, before the court ruling, featured a cast of characters and the deliberate inflammation of tensions.
The party was able to draw far more attention away from the Government's new budget from outside Parliament than it ever could have inside its walls.
But these antics cost the party’s dignity and they were not cheap.
Only one group of people emerged from yesterday’s would-be confrontation with the ability to hold their heads high and that was the Police force.
The force distinguished itself by remaining calm and composed despite provocations from people who should have behaved in keeping with their status as public figures.
The Police kept their heads high as protestors such as Tuilaepa and the party’s Secretary, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, told the Police guarding the Parliament that they had written and passed the laws the officers were now enforcing, implying they were unqualified to follow orders, as they did.
For individuals such as Lealailepule, who has been writing critiques of higher order judicial decision-making on the party’s behalf, becoming involved in such a petty street level exchange harms his credibility as a serious legal thinker.
The Police, by contrast, remained cool and composed throughout as they kept to their mission and did not allow for the escalation of a situation that had all the ingredients for serious upheaval. We salute their professionalism and the solemness they upheld their oath to protect and serve in the face of provocations.
Another remarkable aspect of Wednesday’s protest was a curious procession of arrivals.
It has been a long 160 days since the election that bundled the H.R.P.P. out of office and which plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis.
But we have only seen one passionate and concentrated display from key figures in Samoan politics and civil society, one that happened to coincide the day after the Government’s first budget.
Where was the faifeau kneeling before the powers that be beseeching them to respect the results of a democratic election? Or court rulings to convene Parliament? Where was the National Council of Churches?
Where was the politically impartial Head of State, who made a point of boycotting the 24 May swearing in of the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party Government?
His Highness boycotted that occasion - which was ultimately found to be the legitimate swearing-in of our current Government - but found the time to pop by yesterday’s sitting of Parliament. Upon arrival he embraced a tearful Tuilaepa in the Parliamentary precinct. We must ask what was achieved by this visit other than to add to the distracting spectacle?
We do not cast aspersions upon the motives of all of those who spoke out publicly yesterday.
The Archbishop of the Catholic Church, Alapati Lui Mataeliga, and his performance of a traditional ifoga (apology) in front of the Government building did not ring hollow or as an event that was designed to apply political pressure.
But for the others involved we must question what was achieved and for whom? We have returned to the original position of having the Speaker swearing in H.R.P.P. members.
The noticeable change was the opportunity for a display that simply distracted from the first serious display of the new Government’s legitimacy, in the form of tabling its first national budget, rather than thoughtfully critiquing it.