Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Samoa's democracy gets sicker

Last year, Samoa's ruling Human Rights Protection Party tried and failed to evict the opposition from Parliament using a one-sided anti-party hopping law. In the wake of that failure, they are now trying again, using their supermajority to amend the constitution to prohibit not just party hopping, but party formation by independents:

The Constitution Amendment Bill was backed by a two thirds majority and states that an MP’s seat becomes vacant, if he or she quits their party and joins another party.

It also says a seat is vacant if a member joins a party or organisation with political aims which is not yet registered or different from the party they belonged to when they entered parliament.

As a result, most members of the incipient Tautua Samoa party have been forced to resign from the party - though two intend to fight the law through the courts or through a by-election if necessary. Its a signal warning in the abuses of anti-party-hopping laws, and of Samoa's gradual transformation into a one-party state. Unfortunately, now they are effectively forbidden to politically organise, there seems little chance that Samoa's opposition will be able to do anything to halt that process.

(I should note that the Samoan Parliament's high threshold for party recognition - something like 10MPs doesn't help here, as it results in MPs being legally classified as "independents" despite having been elected on behalf of a registered party. The new law could see such MPs summarily evicted for "party hopping" if they claim membership in their actual party, even though it is the Speaker's classification rather than their allegiance which has changed).