Samoa Observer: Where is the Head of State?

Samoa's Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II
Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II ... his absence has added to the destructive trail on Samoa's already battered constitution. Image: Samoan govt

EDITORIAL: By the Editorial Board

As the focus of Samoa’s political crisis shifts to the courtrooms of our Supreme and District Courts, and with Monday, 24 May 2021, going down in the history books as a tale of alternate realities, we are left wondering if there is something missing.

Wherever you stand and whoever you support, surely there can be some common ground to be found among all Samoans, in the simple question of – where is the Head of State?

The Head of State, Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, has for all intents and purposes, gone AWOL.

The country has not heard from His Highness since the weekend, when issuing his Saturday night proclamation to suspend his Friday afternoon proclamation for Parliament to convene on Monday morning.

A promise to provide reasons for suspending the Friday proclamation was made, but four days later and the country is still waiting for answers as we uncoil ourselves from fetal positioning, after Monday’s events.

For the uninitiated: an ad-hoc Parliament was convened under a marquee outside Samoa’s hallowed Maota Fono. This was due to the fact that the doors of the Maota were locked and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly’s refusal to adhere to a Supreme Court ruling.

The Head of State and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and staff were not in attendance for the late afternoon sitting of Parliament. Also conspicuously absent were the 25 elected MPs from the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), including their leader and caretaker Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

That the HRPP was not in attendance came as no surprise, because Tuila’epa had made it clear that they would not be attending.

That they would stoop to such levels to stop the convening of the 17th Parliament is reprehensible, but frankly, unsurprising.

Tuilaepa’s reach is long, and the Head of State’s absence from Monday’s convening, shows just how long.

So the majority of Parliament’s elected members (26) – all from Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) – went ahead with their own swearing-in ceremony, swore their oaths and signed in as legislators of the 17th Parliament using collapsible tables, stackable plastic chairs and Chinese mats.

It was a woeful sight; and yet perfectly emblematic of what Samoa’s democracy has been reduced to.

The Head of State’s absence from that watershed Parliament sitting on Monday may perhaps debunk any wholesale belief that his role is merely in title alone.

We say this because only he could have changed the course of Monday’s events, had he shown up and flouted the HRPP leader’s declaration that there would be no convening of Parliament.

By following his own Friday afternoon proclamation and allowing the 17th Parliament to convene, and by conducting the swearing-in of new members of the Legislative Assembly inside the Maota Fono, His Highness could have set our current political path back to where it should be.

And that is with the installation of our next government, which would have been FAST-led.

Whatever else that was set to come, such as petitions, would see their day in court and the outcome could have been dealt with accordingly.

Considering the significant number of election petitions filed with the courts, the final lineup of government could have changed over time.

Well, that was what we believe should have happened.

Whether that fits with a caretaker government’s timeline or party politics is irrelevant. That is what is enshrined in our constitution and the process we have always followed.

Stepping back and allowing another party to take the wheel, as the courts make their way through the petitions, may not be a desirable outcome for the HRPP, but that’s not their call to make.

How is it that a political party can stop the swearing in of another political party? The answer is they can’t.

Government is involved, to be sure, as we saw with the non-attendance of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, the locking of the Assembly doors and of course – the missing Head of State.

His absence has added to the destructive trail on our already battered constitution.

The Head of State’s previous edicts to delay Parliament denied 26 constituencies their right to see their elected members sworn-in and seated in our Maota Fono on Monday.

His absence leaves us with the caretaker government at the helm, refusing to step away; led by the caretaker Prime Minister, who appears to move seamlessly between his role as caretaker PM and HRPP party leader, as he continues to fulfill the duties of both, often simultaneously.

His absence leaves us with a Prime Minister-elect, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who was sworn-in under unprecedented circumstances.

What could have been a simple timeline moving from general elections to the swearing in of our complete Legislative Assembly has veered off in to uncharted territory.

We are now in the ugly position of having two parties claiming to be government.

Our supreme law is there to guide us in these times, and so our beacon of hope remains with the judiciary.

Any questions requiring the interpretation of law should never be left to the court of public opinion nor in the hands of politicians, because that is not their purview.

No one person should ever be judge, jury and executioner. This is pertinent when considering the current actions of the caretaker leader, who has levelled serious accusations at his political opponents and the judiciary.

The separation of these powers is what makes a democracy, and keeps everyone accountable.

When you attempt to circumvent that path by altering an electoral timeline that has been tried and true over previous elections and by undermining the integrity of the judiciary and denying elected Members of Parliament from being sworn in as others have been sworn for decades, we have to ask if there is something amiss in the house of HRPP. Or are all members of the party as complicit as their leader?

The sitting of our new Parliament, and adherence to the electoral process where petitions would ultimately decide the final makeup of seats in the Assembly should have been the path we follow.

The Samoa Observer editorial of 26 May 2021. Republished with permission.

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