2 Claim Prime Ministership in Samoan Constitutional Crisis

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May 24, 2021

Questions of uncertainty and legitimacy surround the Samoan government, as two lawmakers are claiming to be the country's parliamentary leader.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), has been the prime minister since 1998. He assumed the country's leadership in that year when then-Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana stepped down because of ill health. Tuilaepa then won re-election in 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016. In the process, he surpassed his predecessor as the country's longest-serving leader.

In this year's elections, however, the HRPP lots its majority, in a complicated constitutional process. The country is a parliamentary democracy with a head of state but also a prime minister, the head of the Fono, the unicameral legislature.

Fiame Namoi Ataafa

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa is the leader of the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party and has served as deputy prime minister since 2016. She and her party won 25 of the 51 seats in the Fono; as well, the HRP also won 25 seats. One candidate was affiliated with neither party but chose to ally with FAST. At the same time, however, the government's elections commissioner appointed another person to serve in the Fono, citing a requirement to meet gender quotas. Because that newly appointed lawmaker was a member of HRP, the deadlock had returned.

Head of state Tuimalealiifano Va'aletoa Sualauvi II called for new elections. However, the country's highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, invalidated the election commissioner's appointment of the HRP candidate, leaving the FAST party with a 26–26 majority and meaning that Fiame, as FAST Party leader, was technically the new prime minister.

Samoa new prime minister

Last week, the head of state suspended parliament. The Supreme Court ordered the Fono to convene, but Tuilaepa and his supporters refused to let Fiame and other members of the FAST Party attend. Undeterred, Fiame had a swearing-in ceremony in a tent outside the locked Fono building. In response, Tuilaeapa declared at a news conference that he was still prime minister.

Fiame would be Samoa's first female prime minister. The country's constitutional post-election deadline to form a government has run out.

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