By-election results highlight need for fresh start
Over seven months ago the political landscape of Samoa got turned on its head, when the new Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party burst onto the scene, winning 25 seats in the April election to tie with the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).
Its victory signalled the emergence of a new political force – whose campaign strategy put it on par with the H.R.P.P. – so much so that the then ruling party got turfed out of Savai’i after it lost 15 seats to the newcomers.
Tied on 25 seats each after the declaration of the 9 April election results, a stalemate ensued between the two parties but only briefly, before Independent M.P. Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio broke the deadlock by announcing his allegiance to the F.A.S.T. party, to increase their seats to 26 to form government by a slim one-seat majority.
The refusal by the H.R.P.P. leadership to concede defeat to enable a smooth transition of power, following the declaration of the 9 April poll results, plunged the country into an unprecedented four-month constitutional crisis.
The illegal occupation of office by the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and his cabinet, supported by sympathetic partisan public officials, was eventually called out by Samoa’s Court of Appeal on 23 July after a series of intense Supreme Court hearings.
The four months of the caretaker government’s administration were characterised by unheard of declarations by the Head of State to nullify the April election results; political attacks directed at the Supreme Court bench and the Chief Justice; and protest marches that championed gender rights but used political actors who were at the forefront of keeping an illegal administration in office.
So amidst the blame game and the accusations by the H.R.P.P. directed at the Courts in recent months that they were behind the rise of the F.A.S.T. Government, the voters in the six constituencies spoke again through their ballots in the by-elections last Friday to put to bed suggestions that the new party usurped power illegally.
The election victories of F.A.S.T. endorsed candidates in the Falealili No. 2, Aleipata-i-Lalo, Sagaga No. 4 and Safata No. 2 seats have pushed the total number of seats held by the new party to 31 in the 51-seat Legislative Assembly.
Depending which way the remaining uncounted pre-polling and special votes go, when the Office of Electoral Commission (O.E.C.) finalises the counting of all the ballots on Monday, the Aana Aana Alofi No. 2 and Sagaga No. 2 seats could also go to the F.A.S.T. due to the minute gaps in the two H.R.P.P. candidates’ winning margins.
So where to from here for the country’s oldest political party? It is time for the H.R.P.P. leadership to face up to the truth of the party’s performance in the 2021 General Election and kick start a process of review.
Political parties in democracies around the world, upon failing to form government after a general election, undertake reviews and change political tactics in line with the wishes of its membership to prepare themselves for the next electoral challenge.
And if necessary effect a succession plan: if the party’s current leadership are in the twilight of their political careers.
We know we’ve talked about party succession plans and the H.R.P.P. in the editorial pages of the Samoa Observer before – but for any democratic nation that prides itself on having and promoting thriving political institutions – it is the most sensible and democratic thing to do in this day and age.
The beauty of the results from last Friday’s six by-elections is that Samoa is now blessed to have a formidable Opposition led by the H.R.P.P. to take the F.A.S.T. Government to task over the next five years.
As a country we have never been in this position in recent years – where a vibrant Opposition bench takes on the Government of the day on key policy matters that would impact the lives of ordinary citizens.
In the next two days the ballots from the six by-elections will be finalised and certified by the O.E.C. and the winners confirmed, before it returns to the Supreme Court for its assistance to interpret the constitutional provision on women representation in parliament.
It already feels like it has been a year since the country held its general election in April. The general election itself and the constitutional crisis that followed made it a long-drawn-out process and everyone wants to move on following the by-elections.
Our democracy was tested this year so let's learn from the lessons of the crisis and use it to strengthen our resolve to follow the rule of law and have respect for one another going forward.
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