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Samoan elections: Tuilaepa perches on the cusp of history

Tuilaepa

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa .... returned unopposed for ninth term. Photo: Savali

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Aigaletaule’ale’ā F. Tauafiafi in Apia

Three days from the Samoan general elections, caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi perches on the cusp of history.

He is back, unopposed, for a ninth term as a parliamentarian.

If his Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) wins and he is re-elected as Prime Minister, he could become the country’s longest serving Prime Minister at 18 years if he serves out the full five-year term to 2016.

Two more than his predecessor, the late Tofilau Dr Eti Alesana who resigned in 1998 having served 16 years as Prime Minister.

In an exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer, he was asked whether he would keep going indefinitely in politics.

And how significant has been the past five years in the context of Samoa’s political and social landscape?

“Firstly, no, [I will not keep on going],” he says.

‘Age catches up’
“There’s a certain time that age catches up. I respond only to the wishes of our party, that’s what carries me. When the party says to me, stop, I’ll stop. And somebody else takes over.”

He says he has no problems if the HRPP party tells him to step aside because “in our party we have very many able leaders.

“I can be replaced tomorrow. I can be replaced today and this party will go on. I am also prepared for any eventuality because I am pleased that we have many who have that leadership quality to lead the party and country.”

He says things such as the leadership “are normal things the party should address.”

“That’s what I am trying to say, that in a party where democracy prevails, where elections are held, the party members must abide by the normal processes in the appointment of leaders.

“When a leader needs to be moved out, he ought to be moved out. So when the party says to me to stop, I’ll stop.”

In terms of his political life, Tuilaepa hails the past five years as historically the most reform-minded period in Samoa’s political and socioeconomic landscapes.

Noted period
“It is the most noted period because this is the five years we were elevated by the world,” he says.

“In our economic status from an LDC [Least Developed Country] to a developing country.

In terms of sport, we became world champions in Rugby 7s, we scooped  three gold medals in the Commonwealth after nearly 50 years of trying.

“So there’s importance to the incentive policies we established as their performance has improved and the result we have gold medals and world champions.

“We do not look lightly at these achievements. These are fantastic achievements in the last five years.”

But one of the big reforms he’s particularly proud of is the constitutional amendment that removed a discriminatory element from parliament, “where two seats had non-titled bearers. Now there is equality in Parliament,” he says.

“It’s the first time in nearly 50-years of self-government, that our parliament is fully Samoan. That is, matai suffrage in terms of candidates, and universal suffrage (21-years eligible to vote) in terms of the right to vote.”

He says: “We cannot just think lightly of a system that took care of stability in our society for the past 3500 years. You don’t just chuck that away.”

Pragmatism, commitment
In essence, over the past 29 years, Tuilaepa has been in politics his modus operandi is pragmatism coupled with commitment and never ending perseverance.

“What I’m trying to say is that we’re working all the time, the government is not sitting still. We are looking at all different options.

Time is not on our side. We cannot wait, our children are finishing school every year so we need to look at all kinds of options and possibilities of employment all the time.”

He noted the main difference between HRPP and Tautua, “is they are more short term in their view. They target the kind of consumption developments/expenses for the time being.

They are promoting only the things that please the people now, they’re not looking to take care of the problems tomorrow.”

But he sympathises with the Tautua Party.

“I cannot blame them. Their drive borders on desperation to get people to support them and as such their proposals are getting ridiculous. But our people are no fools,” he says.

Current needs
“They should see that the HRPP targets more longer term development while including the current needs of our people.

That’s the simple difference between an untried party and us where we have the experience and necessary knowledge and expertise in how to run a country.”

He points to their shortcomings in terms of how to realistically fund their manifesto.

“Even when you want to do things short term you need money.  You can’t do anything without money.

So to kick off a campaign by saying we will eliminate this source of revenue and then we will do this without looking at the budget that we borrow $T149million to fill the shortfall is regrettable because they don’t have a surplus to play with.

“To come up with the suggestion to do away with revenue sources because of the mad pre-occupation with the cost of living. The major impact is to render a government with absolutely no funds to bring into effect what they have been promising the people.”

Exit strategy
Tuilaepa says he expects they are already planning an exit strategy, “in the unlikelihood they will come in they will have an exit to continue as a government without honouring the promises made.”

One of the promises he says Tautua will not be able to deliver is increasing the pension scheme.

“The pension scheme is ours and we review it in accordance with our affordability in the budget to make sure it’s possible and not just wishful thinking.

“The scheme involves about 9900 people from a population of 180,000. We spend $T16million on 9900 people which is a tremendous amount of money. We have another 170,000 people to care for. So it’s really irresponsible for the Tautua party to think we should spend all the money on 9900 people. That’s how short-sighted they are.

“The HRPP looks at the bigger picture, at the needs to ensure balance so the needs of all our people in the country are addressed.”

Aigaletaule’ale’ā F. Tauafiafiis a columnist and reporter for the Samoa Observer. The Samoan general elections are on Saturday.

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