Samoan High Court Aims to End Constitutional Crisis

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June 30, 2021

The Supreme Court of Samoa has told both of the country's major political parties to end the stalemate that is preventing the formation of a Parliament.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), has been the prime minister since 1998. 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 HRPP 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

The head of state suspended parliament, but the Supreme Court ordered the Fono to convene. It was then that 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 running the country.

The high court has mandated that a proper Parliament must be sworn in within a week, in essence telling the HRPP, under a threat of contempt of court, that they must allow FAST members to participate. The high court invalidated the impromptu swearing-in of Mata'afa and the other 25 intended members of her Parliament majority but said that the penalty for HRPP's not convening a proper Parliament would be that the high court would recognize the FAST swearing-in as lawful.

Fiame would be Samoa's first female prime minister.

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