Samoa Observer: Democracy tested as Samoa celebrates independence

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Samoan flag and child
"The future belongs to our youth. Happy Independence Day, Samoa!" Image: Anetone Sagaga/Samoa Observer

EDITORIAL: By the editorial board of the Samoa Observer

Samoa’s 59th Independence Day has come and gone, without the usual fanfare and intense patriotism we have grown accustomed to from previous years.

What we’ve seen for the last few weeks and indeed months has tested the strength of our democracy at the highest of levels and the lowest of lows.

Our Independence document, our Constitution, set out the supreme law for self-governance. The preamble outlines what Samoa stands for as a sovereign nation.

Samoa ObserverIN THE HOLY NAME OF GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, THE EVER LOVING
WHEREAS sovereignty over the Universe belongs to the Omnipresent God alone and the authority to be exercised by the people of Samoa within the limits prescribed by God’s commandments is a sacred heritage.
WHEREAS the Leaders of Samoa have declared that Samoa should be an Independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and tradition
AND WHEREAS the Constitutional Convention, representing the people of Samoa, has resolved to frame a Constitution for the Independent State of Samoa
WHEREIN the State should exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people
WHEREIN should be secured to all the people their fundamental rights
WHEREIN the impartial administration of justice should be fully maintained
AND WHEREIN the integrity of Samoa, its independence, and all its rights should be safeguarded
NOW THEREFORE, we the people of Samoa in our Constitutional Convention, this 28th day of October 1960, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.

The founding document of our government has undergone the toughest stress test it has ever had to go through, with poking and prodding and pulling and tugging from legal minds, concerned citizens, inquisitive media and the endless electioneering of politicians.

All while the silent backdrop of a global pandemic and economic recession keeps us wary of possibly greater perils.

So what is there to feel proud of this Independence Day?

Well, despite the challenges and political instability, we have not descended in to chaos or a state of anarchy. The people of this country continue to keep the engines moving, whether they are the struggling private sector or threatened public service.

While the question of Parliamentary majority remains unknown with an appeal pending before the Courts, and both the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) and Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) staking their claims on the executive government, Samoa has remained peaceful and mostly respectful of each other.

Where we find deficiencies in leadership, we take the reins and steer our own families and communities towards peaceful accord.

There may be passionate differences of opinion, but for the most part we are still in this rocky boat together.

As we have seen with the unusual sight of protests in recent weeks, our people are able to defy cultural norms and use their constitutional rights to protest peacefully.

The Samoa Solidarity International Group (SSIG) protests were led by a woman. The Women Empowerment march was led by women. These are the pae and auli of our families and communities. They are generally seen to be the background advisors and soothsayers. And yet there they were, front and center on the national stage, speaking up for what they believe.

This year’s Independence may be a muted affair, but its significance is great as we remember the rights and privileges that come with being citizens of a sovereign nation.

All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression; to assemble peaceably and without arms; to form associations or unions and to move freely throughout Samoa and reside in any part.

We have seen this exemplified in recent weeks and months with the people of this country using their right to assemble and listen to election campaigning, to form supporter groups and debate one another on the merits of their chosen political affiliations.

This newspaper has also used its privilege to bring to light issues that best reflect its values and adherence to journalism standards and ethics.

All people are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection under the law. We have seen this in action as our Police have done their best to provide protection and lawful interventions across the board during this political crisis.

The Head of State’s Independence Address calls for a return to Christian values as a way to solve the political impasse. He called on the people of Samoa to reflect and remember our ancestors and those who fought for Samoa’s freedom, whose sacrifices enabled us to live as an independent nation.

This was his first public statement in over a week; since his proclamation to suspend an earlier call for Parliament to convene. He called on all leaders – church, government, private sector, political – and every citizen to seek guidance from God to solve the current political impasse.

The carefully worded speech by the Head of State acknowledges that our crisis will take all of us to fix. His reference to youth is also noteworthy.

“On this day, the youth of Samoa should feel the special pride of being citizens of a free nation; let us ensure this is a legacy they will be proud to pass on,” he said.

At this very moment in our history, the impasse is not a legacy anyone should be proud to pass on. But the peacefulness of our people, in this crisis, most definitely is.

Last year’s announcement of a muted national celebration, without a parade and the singing and dancing of villages assigned the honour of entertaining our dignitaries and our country, was met with disappointment. But we accepted the decision due to concerns over the coronavirus.

This year, a call to have another virtual ceremony to mark our 59th Independence, appears to be less about public health concerns and more about our political instability.

After all, how would you host an official celebration with two prime ministers staking their claim on this country?

So we are grateful for the resilience and independent spirit of our people, who took it upon themselves to host their own celebrations.

As shown in our Tuesday edition, Samoa Primary held their own Independence Day fete on Monday with tributes to Samoan tradition such as artwork displays, dancing and singing, the preparation and serving of Samoan food. They even had a float parade.

“Every year’s celebration is remembering our forefathers who have fought for the independence of Samoa and for that we give the opportunity to the students to expand their minds and research former leaders and also those who were fighting for the sake of our country,” said principal Anne Leauga.

On Independence Day itself, we witnessed a few community events starting with Falelauniu, where the Church of Nazareth braved the rain and put on a parade in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Pastor Toeleiu Alatise told this newspaper that he hoped the youth find the spirit of Independence, despite there not being any national celebrations.

“It took two weeks to prepare this event for the children as we had received news that there will be no Independence celebrations, so we prepared this,” he said.

The Marist Old Pupils Association also came together and hosted their own Independence parade, flag raising and celebrations.

The keynote address was given by the Association’s Patron, 81-year-old Tuala Tom Annandale.

“I am happy to see each and every one of our Marist brothers participating in the celebration of the 59th independence day of Samoa,” he said.

“We leave politics aside and focus on the celebration itself as we are all one; we are all called the children of Mother Mary.

“Once you enter the gate, whatever title you have will stay behind gates. We are known as one.”

In whatever way you celebrated Samoa’s 59th Independence Day, we hope you did so in the spirit of appreciation for the great privilege we have been given, to live freely and to choose our own paths as individuals and as a nation.

The Samoa Observer editorial on 2 June 2021. Republished with permission.

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