26 May 2021

Samoa incumbent leader needs to 'get a grip' PM-elect says

12:12 pm on 26 May 2021

Samoa's Prime Minister-elect says she doesn't think the accusation of treason by the incumbent leader holds sway and suggested he his having a hard time letting go of power.

 the Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) political party shows party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa (R) in Apia, the capital of Samoa. - Samoa opposition leader -- a veteran powerbroker with ties to island royalty -- has spurred a seismic political shift her Pacific nation,

Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata'afa. Photo: AFP

Samoa's Attorney-General has filed a complaint with the Supreme Court, claiming yesterday's swearing in of the FAST party was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court heard it for mention this afternoon, and set down a hearing for Thursday at noon.

The attorney-general named the FAST party leader, incoming prime minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, all of its MPs and their lawyers as respondents.

In a statement last night threatening action, the attorney-general's office said those who conducted the ad-hoc swearing in ceremony held yesterday afternoon had no legal authority.

But today, FAST was maintaining that it is now the government - it has a majority, and was forced to act by the head of state and parliamentary officials' defying the Supreme Court.

Incumbent Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi was not backing down either, today again calling the FAST party's actions a coup.

FAST had been barred from entering the parliament building after Tuila'epa, who has been Prime Minister for 23 years and leader of HRPP, which has been ruling party for around four decades, directed the Speaker to lock the doors.

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

Fiame spoke to RNZ Pacific's Don Wiseman on Tuesday evening and said she did not think the accusation of treason, made by Tuila'epa yesterday, is a serious one.

"You might have recalled at the last parliament he was throwing those threats at the four of us. We were the sole opposition in the House.

"Treason, it's very well defined. It has a lot to do with killing people or plotting to kill people, having full frontal physical attacks. It's nothing like that.

"So I think he just likes to stoke the fire and throw in big words like treason. I don't think that [his accusation] is very serious.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. Photo: Screengrab

Tuila'epa today suggested the judiciary had a bias towards Fiame, partly due to a family relation. Fiame said he "needs to get a grip."

"It's not a matter of bias. It's a matter of the merit of the issues and the cases brought before the court."

She suggested Tuila'epa was either getting bad legal advice or having lawyers tell him what he wanted to hear.

"Unfortunately the lawyers are people in their official capacities, they're not private lawyers for the HRPP.

"They're sort of running the show for him. In fact if there's anything more concerning for me, it's that these public officials are not able to play their role and functions in an independent and impartial way. They're just toeing the line."

Fiame said Tuila'epa was getting to the end of a long career and suggested he was having trouble letting go.

"The thing that really happened, first and foremost, is that he was getting to that point in that long and distinguished career where he thought he was, you know, omnipotent and could now do whatever he liked. Now, he's gone from being 'chosen by God' to setting himself up as very god-like.

"The second thing, I think, was that before the election he was making predictions of having another landslide victory. So when the results came out I think that was quite a dire shock for him."

On where the situation with the parliament is at now, Fiame pointed out HRPP MPs also faced a conundrum:

"So I would imagine that if things return to normality, whether there is a formal recognition of that process, and just transferred into the records of parliament, or whether we have another... because of course the other issue is what happens to the other 25 HRPP MPs? Are they in fact invalid or now voided by the fact that they weren't sworn in by the deadline. So that's another issue that's in abeyance."

Fiame and two other members of the majority party appeared in court in Apia this morning where they pled not guilty to a private prosecution brought by Tuila'epa.

The legality of yesterday's ceremony is still in question but a legal expert today told RNZ that FAST did not carry out a 'coup'.

"Rather, they acted in a way which was necessary to prevent one," Fuimaono Dylan Asafo wrote.

"By refusing to attend the first meeting of the new parliament, it was the Head of State who first and foremost breached the relevant Constitutional procedures and any relevant Standing Orders."

Samoa government building, Apia.

Samoa government building, Apia. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The Pacific Conference of Churches this morning called on its member churches around the region to pray for peace and justice to prevail in Samoa, with secretary Reverend James Bhagwan saying the situation was quite concerning.

"Particularly the to and fro between the political parties," he said.

"I am not a political commentator in any way but we can see there is a need for this to be resolved and we hope that that can be done in a manner that finds resonance with the people of Samoa."

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs today issued a statement calling on all parties to uphold the rule of law and respect the democratic process.

"We are willing to offer support to Samoa should that be useful during this complex period," it said.

However, MFAT declined to answer a direct question about whether it recognised yesterday's swearing-in ceremony as legal and official.

It would only say New Zealand "respects Samoa's sovereignty and the mana of its democratic institutions, including the courts which have an important democratic and constitutional role" and that it recognised the "combined wisdom and experience of traditional and church leaders who will want to see a peaceful outcome".

New Zealand "looked forward to working with a democratically elected" government, said the statement.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had not spoken to the leader of either party since the election.

"We've joined with many others in just restating our faith in Samoa's democracy," Ardern said.

"It falls upon those within Samoa to demonstrate their faith in their own democracy too."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was looking forward to working with a democratically elected government of Samoa.

The prime minister of the Cook Islands, Henry Puna.

The incoming secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Pacific Islands Forum ready to help - Puna

The Pacific Islands Forum is urging all parties in Samoa to find a peaceful resolution to the current deadlock.

Its incoming secretary general Henry Puna said forum members were closely following events in Samoa, and the group was willing to offer support and step in to help if asked.

Puna, who is the former Cook Islands prime minister, also called for a moment of reflection and solidarity across the Pacific Islands Forum for the people of Samoa, where post-election events are making global headlines.

"I ask each of us across our member nations to keep the people of Samoa in our thoughts and prayers at this time, knowing that Samoa's sovereign process and the world-renowned Fa'a Samoa will prevail at this critical moment in their history."

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