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RNZ Pacific

Samoa’s election-winning FAST party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has been named the country’s first woman Prime Minister, in a swearing-in ceremony her rival called “treason”.

She named her cabinet this afternoon in the ceremony in a large marque tent erected on the Fale Fono (Parliament) grounds.

Whether this ad-hoc ceremony will be recognised as legal and official remains to be seen.

The rival Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) was not there, nor was there any sign of the judiciary, the speaker, or the head of state. The appointed clerk of parliament acted as FAST’s main legal counsel.

FAST had this morning been barred from entering the Parliament building after Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who has been Prime Minister for 23 years and leader of HRPP, directed the Speaker to lock the doors.

Under the constitution, Parliament must sit within 45 days of an election and today was the last day for this to be possible.

FAST said the caretaker government’s actions were “tantamount to a coup”.

‘Bloodless … but a coup’
“I think a coup would be accurate,” spokesman for FAST Lance Apulu said when asked to describe the events of this morning. “Bloodless, but they are actually coups.

“The FAST party are abiding by the rule of law. Yesterday the latest declaration was given by the Supreme Court … they are pushing for the government to abide by the rule of law.”

The Samoan ad-hoc swearing-in ceremony
The Samoan ad-hoc swearing-in ceremony today with a former Head of State among those present. Image: Ame Tanielu/RNZ

A Supreme Court decision on May 17 broke a post-election deadlock by confirming the new FAST party had a 26-25 seat majority over the HRPP.

Then, a decision by the Supreme Court on Sunday overruled an edict late on Saturday by the Head of State withdrawing a directive for Parliament to open today.

HRPP, which has ruled Samoa for nearly 40 years, has been refusing to hand over power. Following the swearing in, Tuila’epa called the FAST Party MPs treasonous and promised legal action.

His words have been translated.

“This is treason,” he said. “This is law-breaking in its highest degree.”

Country’s chiefs disrespected
He said FAST had disrespected the country’s chiefs and leaders and were mentally unfit.

“I have a piece of encouragement for my government officials/public servants today: do not be worried, this party is doing what they can… all there is to do for now is to continue our hard work,” he said.

“I’m just wondering if ‘those guys’ are all there mentally… this isn’t and will not be a government of fools.”

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi
Caretaker leader Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi speaking after the ceremony … “this isn’t and will not be a government of fools.” Image: RNZ screengrab

He said only the Head of State could call Parliamentary meetings and swear people in.

“None of what they did is legitimate. The Devil has won and taken over them.”

When asked about the fact that it is Day 45 since the general election, and Samoa had not had a Parliament sitting, Tuila’epa said: “I’m going to answer that question at another, more appropriate time.”

It is probably fortunate Samoa has no armed forces, but there is now immense pressure on the public service and Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil.

Enforcing the law
This morning, the commissioner said his role was to enforce the law and he was doing that today by escorting Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese to and from Parliament in an attempt to uphold the Supreme Court order to convene parliament.

The judiciary – already under immense pressure, which it has so far held up to – is likely to be put to the test again.

Crises like these are where the head of state is meant to step in, but Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aleto’a Sualauvi has shown that he has been politically swayed, acting on the advice of Tuila’epa and the HRPP Attorney-General, and lacking his own independent advisers.

Even so, he is not in Apia and there has been no word from him today.

Tuila’epa said he wondered how the ad-hoc ceremony made Samoa look to other countries.

“They used to look at us with respect, now we are seen as fools … they have disrespected the dignities of the chiefs and leaders of their districts with their actions today.

“That was a joke, a joke. Oh my, where have we ever seen a Speaker sworn in, in a tent? Shameful.”

“I say that is enough foolishness, enough disrespect. But I am thankful to the Chief Justice for not being present at this tomfoolery.”

FSM recognises Fiame as PM
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at her post-cabinet briefing this afternoon, that the country would encourage “all parties and political leaders” to uphold the election outcome and the decisions of institutions including the judiciary, and the rule of law.

Ardern said New Zealand was not in a position to be playing “any interventionist role”.

She said despite the fact there was a “changeable” political situation, reports were that things were calm, in line with calls from political and faith community leaders.

The Federated States of Micronesia tonight said it “recognised the legitimacy of Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa”.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

Timeline of events leading to Samoa’s political crisis


This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.

Citations

[1] Pacific News | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/[2] Samoan judiciary sends powerful rule of law message over ‘coup bid’ | Asia Pacific Report ➤ https://asiapacificreport.nz/2021/05/24/samoan-judiciary-sends-powerful-rule-of-law-message-over-coup-bid/[3] FAST party locked out of Samoa’s Fale Fono as election turmoil continues | Asia Pacific Report ➤ https://asiapacificreport.nz/2021/05/24/fast-party-locked-out-of-samoas-fale-fono-as-election-turmoil-continues/[4] NZ’s Ardern appeals to Samoans to uphold democracy as crisis deepens | Asia Pacific Report ➤ https://asiapacificreport.nz/2021/05/24/nzs-ardern-appeals-to-samoans-to-uphold-democracy-as-crisis-deepens/[5] Samoan election | Search Results | Asia Pacific Report ➤ https://asiapacificreport.nz/?s=Samoan+election[6] Parliament locked as Samoa turmoil continues | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/443222/parliament-locked-as-samoa-turmoil-continues[7] Extra seat thrown out, FAST wins Samoa election | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/442725/extra-seat-thrown-out-fast-wins-samoa-election[8] Samoa: edict stopping parliament from sitting overturned | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/443187/samoa-edict-stopping-parliament-from-sitting-overturned[9] Samoa Observer | Fiame takes P.M.'s oath ➤ https://t.co/tGiPBO0EuJ[10] Samoa Observer on Twitter: "The nation's first elected female Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, was sworn in outside Parliament on Monday evening in a historic and extraordinary moment in Samoa's democratic history. https://t.co/tGiPBO0EuJ" ➤ https://twitter.com/samoaobserver/status/1396788280507645954?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[11] Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson on Twitter: "“As the FSM is itself a democracy, that both upholds and promotes democratic values, it is imperative that we show our friends, especially during their darkest hours, that we stand with them," FSM President, David W. Panuelo in a statement recognizing Fiame as Prime Minister… https://t.co/tYAd18PJoP" ➤ https://t.co/1eAlcbLjah[12] Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson on Twitter: "“As the FSM is itself a democracy, that both upholds and promotes democratic values, it is imperative that we show our friends, especially during their darkest hours, that we stand with them," FSM President, David W. Panuelo in a statement recognizing Fiame as Prime Minister… https://t.co/tYAd18PJoP" ➤ https://twitter.com/lagipoiva/status/1396727682377805824?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[13] Dame Cindy Kiro to be next Governor-General of New Zealand - Ardern | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/443256/dame-cindy-kiro-to-be-next-governor-general-of-new-zealand-ardern[14] Samoan prime minister claims to be 'appointed by God' | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/442478/samoan-prime-minister-claims-to-be-appointed-by-god[15] Extra seat thrown out, FAST wins Samoa election | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/442725/extra-seat-thrown-out-fast-wins-samoa-election[16] Samoa court dismisses call for second election | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/442739/samoa-court-dismisses-call-for-second-election[17] Samoa: edict stopping parliament from sitting overturned | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/443187/samoa-edict-stopping-parliament-from-sitting-overturned[18] Parliament locked as Samoa turmoil continues | RNZ News ➤ https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/443222/parliament-locked-as-samoa-turmoil-continues