A new parliamentary chapter for the people
If God had to perform a miracle to diffuse the tension and unite the opposing sides of Samoa’s politics, it happened Friday morning at Mulinu’u.
Who would have thought that after weeks of emotionally charged rhetoric and counter accusations as well as four unsuccessful attempts to get into the House, political foes Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) would cross that bridge of unity together in a matter of hours.
And it wasn’t too far a bridge to cross, if the scenes in the chamber of the Legislative Assembly on Friday morning were any indication.
Works Transport and Infrastructure Minister Olo Fiti Va’ai became the icebreaker in this long running saga, when he walked over upon the Government entering the chamber to shake the hands of H.R.P.P. Members, before getting into an embrace with the former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.
The move by Olo, who at one point in his political career was a one-man Opposition MP, immediately opened the door with Tuilaepa walking over to the Government to hug his successor Fiame before shaking hands with other F.A.S.T. Ministers and Members. A stream of white suited Members from the Opposition then followed to meet and greet their peers on the other side of the floor.
There was a round of applause in the chamber when Tuilaepa walked over and hugged Fiame. The members of the media corps as well as top officials and bureaucrats were in awe at the historical development, having been privy in recent days to the heated confrontation between the H.R.P.P. and the Police.
The XVII Parliament soon got down to business to witness the swearing-in of H.R.P.P. Members overseen by the Speaker Papalii Lio Masipau. It was obvious from what transpired in the House Friday morning that plans by the F.A.S.T. Government to pass its $982 million budget were put on the backburner and the swearing-in of their political rivals brought forward to Friday from next Monday.
So how good is that in order to promote and show national unity after months of public acrimony between the two political parties that divided families, communities and the nation?
There is no doubt whatsoever that there is a longing within the nation for the months-long political crisis to be brought to an end. And both political parties took major steps on Friday towards achieving that outcome.
Dare we say the ifoga (traditional apology) led by the head of the Catholic Church Archbishop Alapati Lui Mata’eliga and members of the archdiocese on Wednesday outside the Parliament was a contributing factor to this breakthrough?
Whatever it is, the leaders of both parties should be commended for agreeing to bury the hatchet in the first sitting of a Government and Opposition bench on Friday morning.
It was an historical occasion, as the swearing-in ceremony also formalised the presence of an 18-Member strong Opposition, its numbers today double that of the Opposition party Tautua Samoa in the 2011–2016 XV Parliament.
Samoa, following the April general election, now finds itself one of few countries in the region with a formidable Opposition led by seasoned politicians. Therefore, we look forward to rigorous debate on the F.A.S.T. Government’s 2021/2022 Financial Year Budget when the Parliament session resumes next week.
Tuilaepa, following the conclusion of the swearing-in of his party members in Parliament, acknowledged in a speech to Parliament the tolerance of the people during the months-long political crisis.
“I believe other countries are envious that despite the disagreement Samoa remains peaceful,” he said.
“Why because our village councils and matai because our customs and culture is well protected by our village councils and matai that were chosen to rule Samoa.”
We believe too that the tipping point has passed following days of chaos and conduct that wouldn’t be considered appropriate for leaders.
But now that we’ve crossed that bridge we look forward to the new XVII Legislative Assembly and the Members of Parliament working together for the benefit of the people.