The letter and implications for Samoa’s oldest party

By The Editorial Board 03 December 2021, 11:46PM

We always welcome contributions to the Samoa Observer’s letters to the editor section and thank readers for finding time in their hectic schedules to put pen to paper.

The letters to the editor section are as old as the newspaper publishing tradition, and prior to the advent of the internet and social media, it provided the basic platform for political engagement.

Even Samoa’s current and former Prime Ministers can send in letters for publishing. 

Therefore, we note with appreciation how the former P.M. Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi made it his business to write to us on two occasions this year.

His most recent contribution to the letters to the editor is titled “Deputy President’s Appointment” and was sent on Thursday. It was his response to this newspaper’s editorial published in the 2 December 2021 edition.

No doubt the editorial in the Thursday edition touched a raw nerve in the veteran politician and this was confirmed by the multiple instances of name-calling, which the former P.M. deployed throughout his letter targeting this newspaper’s Editorial Board and its members.

And with the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leader having a history of personally attacking and vilifying opponents including the Samoa Observer reporters, his remonstration was not unexpected, and the shift in public sentiment against the former ruling party was not surprising either, as all the public saw was a group of men scheming to make life difficult for Samoa’s first woman Prime Minister.

Also we must correct the misleading statements that the former Prime Minister’s letter contained in relation to his party’s performance after the 9 April General Election. 

Statement 1: The voters did not oust the H.R.P.P. Incorrect: when the XVI Parliament was dissolved in March this year, the party had 44 seats and Tuilaepa declared H.R.P.P. would return with 45 seats (but history shows the party only won 25 seats in April’s poll and lost 26 to the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and two Independents).

Statement 2: The 10 per cent women seats which the Court confirmed to be 6 after first making ‘a wrong ruling’ and then refused to recognise our lady M.P. until after the 26 November by-elections. Incorrect: The decision of the Court not to recognise the H.R.P.P. woman candidate at that material time was correct and in line with the law. How can the Electoral Commissioner invoke that constitutional provision at that time when he knew the electoral process was still very much ‘alive’ with the election petitions and by-elections yet to be concluded? Tuilaepa forgets that it was his and his party’s refusal to concede defeat to the F.A.S.T. to enable the transition to a new administration which pushed the by-elections to 26 November.

Statement 3: The 24 May 2021 swearing-in of the FAST and its Members-elect was declared illegal and unconstitutional, void and of no effect by the Supreme Court and later legitimised by the Court of Appeal. Same facts, different rulings. Incorrect: while the Supreme Court ruled that the 24 May 2021 swearing-in of F.A.S.T. Members-elect void, it ordered the convening of the parliament within seven days and its own wisdom inserted a clause in its judgement for the new party’s Members’ swearing-in oaths to be reinstated if the caretaker government (led by the H.R.P.P.) didn’t comply with its orders. The Court of Appeal three weeks later reinstated the 24 May 2021 swearing-in oaths of F.A.S.T. Members – due to the caretaker administration’s failure to facilitate the convening of parliament in line with the Court’s orders – and consequently the Court confirmed the legitimacy of the F.A.S.T. as the new governing administration. 

And then there’s Tuilaepa’s reference to Malaysia’s tripartite court structure, in a bid to justify the creation of a dual court system in Samoa headed by Samoa’s Supreme Court and the Lands and Title Court (L.T.C.), following the passage of the L.T.C. suite of bills last December. What the former P.M. didn’t mention is that in Malaysia the Federal Court – the country’s appellate court – remains at the apex at the court hierarchy. 

All in all there is no one else to blame for the demise of the H.R.P.P. in the April poll and last Friday’s six by-elections – except Tuilaepa and the party’s leadership as one of their own senior Members and former Cabinet Ministers expressed on Thursday.

The Sagaga No. 1 M.P. and former Minister for Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, in an analysis of the party’s performance in the elections emphasised the need for the party’s leadership to “hang their boxing gloves”.

The criticism by Loau raises the issue of political succession which a lot of his party colleagues in recent months have steered clear of, either due to their loyalty to Tuilaepa or just out of convenience (until it is raised in the party caucus). Talk to political scientists and they will tell you no political regime can avoid the challenges of leadership succession and political parties are no different.

This could be a defining moment for the country’s oldest political party: where it goes from here and its performance in the next general election could depend on how Tuilaepa addressed the concerns of its party-members such as Loau and their calls for a leadership change.

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By The Editorial Board 03 December 2021, 11:46PM
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