Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Running for the exits

Today is another key date in the ongoing Samoan constitutional crisis, with the HRPP-stacked Judicial Service Commission meeting to determine whether to suspend the Chief Justice. Not for any actual misconduct, but essentially because the HRPP doesn't like the decisions he (and other judges) have made. A suspension would only be temporary, until parliament sits, and the HRPP won't be able to actually sack him unless they can rig new elections to engineer themselves a two-thirds majority. But it would publicly threaten other judges - back us or we will suspend you too - and disrupt the ability of the court to continue to hear cases. And the latter may be all that's required for the HRPP to cling to power.

OTOH, its also clear that Tuilaepa's attempted coup is not supported by his own MPs. Yesterday, another three HRPP MP's resigned rather than fight election petitions, bringing the total to six - a quarter of his caucus. Two of those - Leota Tima Leavai and Aiono Afaese Toleafoa - have also agreed not to contest the resulting byelection, while in a third case - former Education Minister Loau Keneti Sio - their FAST opponent agreed not to stand, leading to speculation he plans to change sides and run for FAST. While the reasons for each resignation will differ - Leota is a lawyer and will lose her livelihood if the petition against her succeeds, others may fear being banned from office - the message is clear: Tuilaepa's MPs aren't willing to take any risks for him. Instead, they're running for the exits. And taking Tuilaepa's tenuous claim of an uncertain outcome with them.

As of today, the numbers stand at FAST 26, HRPP 17 (two other HRPP MPs have had their elections voided for corruption). If parliament was allowed to meet, it is crystal clear what the outcome of any vote would be and who would hold its confidence. Which is of course why the regime won't let it happen. There are currently eight byelections lined up (and potentially more to come), and the HRPP has to win every single one of them just to stay in the game. Which seems like a tall order when your own candidates are quitting or switching sides.