Apia (Samoa) (AFP)
A constitutional crisis in the peaceful nation of Samoa returned to court on Tuesday as Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa rejected the “electoral games” of his predecessor, who refused to relinquish power.
Mata’afa was sworn in as the country’s first female prime minister in an extraordinary ceremony in a tent outside parliament on Monday after the island nation’s longtime leader refused to relinquish power and ordered the gates of the building are locked.
Mata’afa revealed on Tuesday that she was facing a private lawsuit for the makeshift ceremony.
“It’s all part of the electoral game, I guess… I don’t think we were very surprised,” Mata’afa told New Zealand television station TVNZ of the latest legal maneuvers.
She said the legitimacy of the ceremony was still open to question as outgoing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi continued to challenge the results of the April 9 election.
Malielegaoi ruled the South Pacific nation for 22 years but has lost a string of court challenges seeking to overturn the vote and call for new elections.
He called the swearing-in ceremony a “betrayal” and insists he is still prime minister.
While the judiciary has so far sided with Mata’afa, the international community continues to bet on who will win the ongoing political power struggle in the nation of 220,000 people.
Influential regional policy actors, notably Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have limited themselves to calls for dialogue and respect for the democratic process.
China has not made its position known, although it maintains close ties with the Malielegaoi government, and Mata’afa has announced that it will abandon a major Beijing-backed port project in the island nation.
The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had followed developments and that the global body “stands ready to support Samoa if the parties so request.”
The only country to offer official recognition of Mata’afa is the tiny Federated States of Micronesia in the North Pacific.
“(FSM) defends and promotes democratic values - it is imperative that we show our friends, especially during their darkest hours, that we stand by their side,” President David W. Panuelo said in a statement .
“Samoa is a valued friend and neighbor to the Pacific; the past few weeks have been very troubling for the Samoan people… they should know that they are not alone in the face of these challenges. “
Samoa gained independence in 1962 after nearly 50 years as a New Zealand protectorate and the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party has been in power since 1982, with the exception of a brief coalition period in 1986-87.
It has always enjoyed huge parliamentary majorities, but Mata’afa’s FAST Party came out of nowhere after being formed in mid-2020 to claim 26 of the 51 legislature seats in last month’s vote.
© 2021 AFP