Thursday, May 08, 2008

One party state

An opposition party is elected to the government-dominated national legislature, but the Speaker refuses to recognise them and insists they sit as independents. After a year, they ally with other independents and defectors to form a new political grouping. The government responds by trying to force them to resign their seats, while the Speaker still refuses to recognise them despite being larger than the minimum party size. A story from an authoritarian pseudo-democracy like Russia or Zimbabwe? Nope. This happening right now right on our doorstep in Samoa.

While democratic, Samoa's political system is so stacked in favour of the governing party that it is effectively a one-party state. Political parties need at least 8 MPs to be recognised in the Samoan Parliament - so when several members of the Samoan Democratic United Party defected and the party fell to 7 MPs, the party ceased to be recognised. They also require those who switch parties - but not those who simply become independents - to resign their seats, a rule which also apparently now applies to independents seeking to form a new party (I say "now" because there has been no barrier to independents joining the governing party in the past). The upshot is to impede the normal process of party formation and prevent the development of a unified opposition.

And this is how the Human Rights Protection Party has stayed in power for the past twenty years.