Samoa was caught in a constitutional crisis on Monday when Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who won an election last month, was expelled from parliament and the previous chairman claimed he was still responsible. Anetone Sagaga / AP Hide caption
Aneton Sagaga / AP
Aneton Sagaga / AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Samoa was caught in a constitutional crisis on Monday when the woman who won an election last month was expelled from parliament and the previous chairman claimed he was still responsible.
The fast-moving events marked the latest turn in a bitter power struggle that has been fought in the small Pacific nation since the election of its first female leader. It’s not just about Samoa’s peace and stability, but also about his relationship with China.
On Monday morning, Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her supporters appeared in parliament to form a new government, but were not allowed in.
She and her FAST party later took oaths and appointed ministers in a ceremony held under a tent in front of the locked parliament. Actions that opponents identified as illegal.
The nation’s Supreme Court had previously ordered Parliament to be convened. And the constitution requires lawmakers to meet within 45 days of an election, with Monday marking the last day after that count.
But Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who was prime minister for 22 years before his unexpected loss in the election, appears unwilling to give up power. He was already one of the longest serving leaders in the world.
Two powerful allies have supported Tuilaepa.
The nation’s head of state, Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, wrote in a proclamation last week that he was suspending parliament “for reasons that I will announce in due course”. The speaker of parliament supported him on Sunday.
After Fiame was locked out on Monday, Tuilaepa held a press conference saying his government remained accountable.
Samoan journalist Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson translated the back and forth on Twitter into English.
At his press conference, Tuilaepa said: “There is only one government in Samoa, even if we are just the custodian. We will stay in that role and do business as usual.”
In the meantime, Fiame said to her followers: “There will be a time when we will meet again in this house. Let us leave it to the law.”
After the FAST Party held its tenting ceremony, Tuilaepa held a second press conference to say that action would be taken against party members.
“This is treason and the highest form of illegal behavior,” he said.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that despite the volatile political situation among Samoa’s people, it appeared relatively calm.
Ardern said she firmly believed that both the election result and the judiciary’s decisions should be upheld, but did not say that Tuilaepa should step aside.
Fiame’s election victory was seen as a landmark not only for conservative and Christian Samoa, but also for the South Pacific, where female leaders were few.
Born in 1957, female equality advocate Fiame broke new ground during her election campaign by taking to the streets and harshly criticizing the incumbent.
It has pledged to halt a $ 100 million Beijing-sponsored port development. According to the news broadcaster RNZ, the project is exaggerated for a nation that is already heavily indebted to China.
Fiame said it intends to maintain good relations with China but has more pressing needs, RNZ said.
Last month’s election initially ended in a 25:25 tie between the FAST party of Fiame and the HRP party of Tuilaepa with an independent candidate.
The independent candidate chose Fiame, but in the meantime the electoral commissioner appointed another HRP candidate who called for gender quotas to be respected.
That made it 26-26.
The head of state then stepped in to announce new elections to break the tie. These nationwide elections of 200,000 were due to take place last week.
But Fiame’s party appealed and the Supreme Court ruled against both the nominated candidate and the plans for the new elections, relegating the FAST party to a majority of 26-25.