(printed in the Samoa Observer October 12, 2010 under Letters to the Editor)
What is Samoa’s political system? What is the ideal one, and then what is the real one?
Considering the seeming political bedlam burgeoning in Samoa, it is appropriate, fair and perhaps preemptive to ask the above questions? And with the upcoming elections, it is good to reflect on Samoa’s current state of political affairs and fledgling political experiences.
Comparatively speaking, especially within the conglomeration of Pacific island nations, Samoa is a relatively peaceful and stable country. No coups. No violent protests. No uprisings. No revolts.
However, there are enough improprieties, malfeasances and dereliction within the political establishment of the country to warrant - at least from a slipshod viewpoint - a panning examination.
So how should we categorize Samoa’s political system? Ideally, most will say that it is a representative model based on the Parliamentary (Westminster) matrix. Furthermore, there is universal suffrage and so Samoa is essentially a member of the “democracy club”. More specifically, others say it’s a bifurcate blend of the new and the old - namely the Parliamentary model actuated by the matai system with a voting and consensus-based dichotomy.
Much of the above represents the realm of the ideal. The sad - though often hush-hush, if not connived and concocted - reality of Samoa’s political system is that it is a collage of mostly anti-democratic practices and machinations.
Samoa’s “polytical” system, therefore, is:
A political unit governed by a deity (or by officials thought to be divinely guided).
How many times have we heard the PM - and others - making pretentious claims that he and his party (HRPP) are divinely called - appointed by God? In addition, we have a Constitution that endorses and unabashedly puts its imprimatur on Christianity.
A political system governed by a few people.
Yes, that’s right, a few people. Locally, in the villages, it’s the village fono. On the national level, it’s the HRPP - presently. When the people vote for their representatives, they “vote” or agree and coalesce to support a particular party and candidate. At that point, any notion of a government by the people ends and the party takes over. Right now, with the way things have gone, it’s government, not by the people, but by “a few people”.
A privileged class holding hereditary titles.
Although universal suffrage is the ideal, the reality is that matai (a privileged class holding hereditary titles) rule. They rule in the villages. And recently by law, one cannot be a Member of Parliament without a hereditary title. How easy is it to get a hereditary title? “Easier than getting a loaf of bread,” according to the PM. Samoa, inherently, is a status society which in essence can be a precursor to a more advanced caste system.
A political system governed by a single individual.
Despite its current democratic template and mandate, there is also, now, a single individual governing the country. It’s an autocracy within a democracy.
An ideology which subscribes to dominance through threat of punishment and violence.
This is found more on the local level (villages) where people are threatened, intimidated, punished and banished by matai. These “tyrants” also threaten any opponent who runs against an incumbent ( “consensus” candidate) and loses. Violence, threats, punishment and banishment await such a person. If, on the national level, the one-party rule continues, a similar stipulation and ultimatum may be in the pipeline. In fact comparable preconditions have become laws such as: If an MP switches party, he/she will lose his/her seat in Parliament. Also, if a candidate does not have a matai title, he/she is an outsider; therefore doesn’t belong to the privileged ruling class.
The principle of complete and unrestricted power in government.
With the one-party state system Samoa has now, who can stand in the way of the complete, absolute and unrestricted power of the present government? Moreover, the other two branches (Judicial and Executive) - that are supposed to provide checks and balances - are just (pun intended) puppets of the Legislative branch (Parliament).
A system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state. A state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.
Self explanatory, though it’s interesting to see the relevance of the expression “self-perpetuating political party” in today’s government. Some HRPP self-perpetuating tactics and contrivances are gradually surfacing which involve party recruiting practices in the villages. With such trends, including obsequious deals with the Commies, the Parliament (Fono) will soon have a make-over and a fitting name change - “Polytburo”.
So while paying lip-service to democratic ideals and principles, Samoa is actually incubating a unique - and possibly an ominous -“polytical” system. She may also be trying to create and develop a cultural democracy of her own, however, with the current system imbued with the above anti-democratic elements, Samoa’s future political system is likely to engender and generate coups, violent protests, uprisings and revolts.
Of course there’s order and stability fostered by a good dependable matai system, but like any other inherently good and ideal system, it can also breed seeds of corruption, deterioration and degeneracy. Samoa certainly has shown signs and intimations of these within the last few years - and still lurking even more today.
Lalomanu and Utah