Who will be prime minister? Challenger Fiame Naomi Mata’afa of FAST or longstanding incumbent Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi of HRPP?

The Bulletin: Sāmoa heading back to the polls

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Sāmoa heading back to the polls, extraordinary evening in parliament discussing Mallard accusations, and a new government implementation unit to be set up.

The political deadlock in Sāmoa looks unable to be broken, and a controversial decision has been made to hold fresh elections. The Sāmoan Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Sualauvi Va’aletoa II, made the call on the grounds of both the deadlock, and the allegations that have been made about the neutrality of the courts, which are currently hearing dozens of petitions about particular results, reports the Samoa Observer. If the elections go ahead, they will happen very quickly, with a date of May 21 set down.

I say if, because the opposition leader is challenging whether the HoS has the power to declare the last election void. “In short, I do not consider that the Head of State has the constitutional power to call new elections at this time”, said F.A.S.T. leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, reports the Sāmoa Observer. One of the live issues right now is the addition of a seat for the governing HRPP, on the grounds that Sāmoa’s gender quota for women MPs hadn’t been met in the original results. That decision left the two parties deadlocked at 26-26, and the opposition leader said any decision on whether a new election should be held should have waited until after the Supreme Court ruled on that. Fiame also accused the HoS of acting unlawfully by “interrupting the proper process of election under law.”

Perhaps more troubling is that the two major party leaders aren’t on the same page. RNZ Pacific reports caretaker PM (and long-time incumbent) Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is understood to be supportive of fresh elections. Fiame alleged the HoS “is clearly taking the advice of the caretaker prime minister is to pre-empt and undermine the decision of the Supreme Court”.

What happens next? No idea. And even if I had any sort of deep understanding of Sāmoan politics, I still couldn’t tell you. Because right now the country appears to be in uncharted waters, with an unprecedented constitutional crisis looming. If the election does go ahead, there’s no telling who would win, and if it doesn’t, there’s no telling how the pending court cases on individual seats will fall. In short, Sāmoa is facing a long and protracted period of not having an elected government firmly in place.


An extraordinary evening in parliament, in which speaker Trevor Mallard has outlined why he made the comments he did alleging that a parliamentary staffer was a rapist. You can watch the start of the statement here and subsequent contributions on that same site, including that from National’s Chris Bishop, and an important legal note – what was said in the house was said with parliamentary privilege, which means that the MPs who made the comments are largely immune from defamation proceedings. But in simple terms, Mallard has accused the man of committing sexual assault, reports Radio NZ. Mallard denied that he had “ruined a man’s life”, saying that in contrast “that man’s life was destroyed when he sexually assaulted a woman. That’s what did it… I will support the woman and what she said, I will support the investigation that found that he seriously assaulted her… and I will support the police and their investigation and the results of that.”


The government will set up a new “implementation unit” within the Department of PM and Cabinet, responsible for making sure stuff gets done, reports a dynamic duo of Stuff journalists. Interestingly, the unit will report to finance minister Grant Robertson, rather than the PM. Writing about in on The Spinoff, Danyl Mclauchlan analysis the awkward questions at the heart of it all, which is what the many ministers and staffers responsible for implementing things are currently doing, and what the outcomes could be if this unit either succeeds or fails.


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So you’ve maybe heard a lot about a document called He Puapua recently, and how it’s a terrifying vision of the future or something. In short, it isn’t – it’s a report on how the non-binding UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) might be implemented in practice, that hasn’t even yet made it to the level of being discussed at cabinet. As Leonie Hayden outlines in a very useful explainer, there’s not really any suggestion that many or indeed any of the recommendations are being actively considered.


Parliament will today discuss human rights abuses in China, though the word “genocide” will not be part of the motion. The NZ Herald reports the Act Party brought the bid to hold a debate on whether Chinese government actions in Xinjiang amounted to genocide, and therefore whether the New Zealand government had obligations to meet under international law. However, Labour opposed the inclusion of genocide in the motion, which Act deputy Brooke van Velden said showed “a sad state of affairs that we need to soften our language to debate the hard issues.”


Two pieces about potential sources of energy that are being looked into: Radio NZ reports Taranaki is currently being considered for an offshore wind project, in part because the region has similar capability and expertise from their history as the centre of natural gas extraction. And Rural News Group has some copy on the NZ Forest Service looking to develop a business case to turn wood waste into biofuel, which could potentially be a pretty significant industry.


The lives of truckers and the security of the country’s potato supply are being put at risk by a dodgy Ruapehu District bridge. Radio NZ’s Phil Pennington reports a full fifth of the washed carrots and potatoes used in the North Island have to go across a century-old wooden bridge with “severe” defects. And the response to a new report on the bridge has been dramatic – weight limits have been cut to the point that now drivers effectively can’t take loads over it in any meaningful way.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Image: Getty Images/Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Mirjam Guesgen writes about the trial of an earthquake early warning system on smartphones. Anjum Rahman writes about what will and won’t help to protect vulnerable communities from terrorism. Oscar Francis writes about how the local economy has to move on from Middle Earth. The Single Object looks at the fascinating history of a typeface set from China, and how it helps tell the story of Chinese people in early New Zealand. Emily Writes argues that kids are being harmed by the judgemental attitudes of adults to what goes in lunchboxes. India Hendrikse looks at the local musicians who were given a chance to shine with the borders closed to international acts. And Chris Shulz absolutely loves TVNZ on Demand, rightly too because it’s great, but wonders why their isn’t a premium option for ad-free watching.


For a feature today, a piece that has been mentioned in The Bulletin, but not yet fully linked to. North and South have brought their excellent Don Rowe feature on teen vaping out from behind the paywall, and it’s a really clear and insightful look at how the nicotine industry has hooked a new generation on their product – often through directly marketing to teenagers. Here’s an excerpt:

In order to function as an effective smoking cessation aid, Harding says, vaping must be accompanied by additional counselling and behavioural support. If the end goal is to drop a nicotine habit, it’s not enough to simply switch delivery devices. Plus, she notes, by 2026, the global vaping market is expected to be worth around $45 billion. If the sole purpose of vaping is really to break the habit of smoking, at some point that growth would evaporate. “I don’t know any other business that wants people to stop buying its product,” Harding says.

And while health practitioners agree that vaping is a viable alternative to cigarettes, the industry has aggressively used that fact to market their products to a much broader customer base.

“The tactics of Big Tobacco are to obfuscate, to confuse the market, to put out a whole range of information which says ‘the research doesn’t show that’, to pay for research,” says Dykes. “They paint people who criticise vaping as extremists. They did that with smoking and I was seeing the same tactics happening in this area. They spread misinformation, they polarise the debate.”


In sport, the IPL cricket tournament has been suspended indefinitely, amid the terrible outbreak of Covid-19 currently hammering India. ESPN Cricinfo reported last night that players from three different franchises had tested positive, forcing those squads into quarantine and making any immediate continuation untenable. But for those wondering about the implications for fixtures like the World Test Championship, those aren’t yet clear. Given the importance of the IPL not just to cricket in India, but professional cricketers worldwide, the word ‘suspended’ is very different to ‘cancelled’.

And an obituary for a seminal figure in New Zealand netball. Margaret Forsyth was widely considered one of the best players of her generation, reports One News, helping the Silver Ferns win two World Cups between 1979 and 1987. She also coached extensively, and even had a stint on the Hamilton City Council, along with jobs as an educator and police officer, to round out a life very well lived. She was 59.


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