Political party landscape needs work: Fiame

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa says Samoa needs to think deeply about the role of political parties in its political system, after spending 40 years governed by one party alone.

With the ruling majority in Parliament, the Human Rights Protection Party itself blurs into the Government, she said.

“The question is there, is there still room for parties, can they be sustained,” Fiame asked.

“For all intents and purposes, because H.R.P.P. has been in government for a long time there is now a murky line between what is party and what is just the Government of the day. 

“Opposition parties haven’t been able to sustain their work for any length of time, and have quite chequered history.”

She said the H.R.P.P., which she was a member of until mid-September when she resigned over her opposition to controversial legislation, used to be more robust in its policies.

“In the early days H.R.P.P. was quite robust in terms of developing the party platform, its constitution, but as time as gone on it has become very much Government centric.”

Samoa is now halfway through its election nomination period, with Fiame yet to register her own nomination. 

 The Electoral Commission reports so far that 77 people have successfully registered their nominations, with another week to go before the nomination n period closes on Friday 23 October.

Of those, 40 are running for H.R.P.P., 28 for Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.), five for Tautua Samoa and four as Independents.

Tautua Samoa Party won two seats in Parliament in the last election, for Members of Parliament Ili Setefano Ta’ateo and Aeau Peniamina Leavaise’eta.

And only one Independent candidate, Olo Fiti Vaai, successfully made it to Parliament in 2016. He has now declared he will run for F.A.S.T., the party formed in July by ousted H.R.P.P. member Laauli Leautea Schmidt.

Two other parties, Tumua ma Puleono and Samoa National Democratic Party, have decided to run under the F.A.S.T. banner. 

Several other parties have registered with the Electoral Commission ahead of the election but so far none have placed official candidate nominations. They include the Sovereign Independent Samoa party and the Samoa First Political Party.

“I am very excited to see the new parties coming in,” Fiame said.

“I have looked at some of the work they have developed around what they might want to do, their platforms.

“What is more exciting is that people are actually sitting around the table and having a conversation about the development of the country, what issues are foremost in their minds and really looking at what is the purpose of Government and is Government delivering services, benefits and so forth to the people.

I don’t know whether it’s just because H.R.P.P. has been there for so long and they are following the road they have been on for a long time but I am not necessarily seeing the rigour and the passion around those kinds of discussions.”

Last week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi accused Independent Members of Parliament of lying and being unprincipled over their party affiliations.

Speaking to state-owned broadcaster Radio 2AP, Tuilaepa said the handful of independent M.P.s, some of whom former H.R.P.P. members, need to make a declaration about their party affiliation.

“They say they’re independent but people know you are not independent,” he said at the time, and threatened to outlaw Independent M.P. status altogether.

“In the next General Election [after 2021 election] we might not have independent [members],” Tuilaepa said. “This will prevent what is happening at the moment where you leave a party and hide around and make fun [of the party].” 

Fiame said this proposition worries her.

“That would concern me because I think that is a right that any Member of Parliament should have.”

M.P. Faumuina Leatinu'u Fong and Fiame entered Parliament under the H.R.P.P. banner and later became independent M.Ps. 

Last week Faumuina declared he would be running for F.A.S.T. in the next election. 

Faumuina and Olo now face an uncertain future where, after changes made to the Electoral Act 2019 outlaw “party-hopping,” the two might be asked to vacate their seats.

But Faumauina said he plans to challenge any attempts to oust him from his seat, saying he is running for F.A.S.T. next year, not this year.

“I am still an Independent, at least that's my interpretation. But let us wait and see how their processes go,” he said on Friday, calling the ban on party-switching mid Parliamentary term dictatorial.

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