Samoa’s caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is refusing to back down and has accused the incoming Government of treason in a blistering speech.
Fiame Naomi Mataafa was sworn in as Samoas first female prime minister on Monday evening and her Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party as the new government, in a ceremony held in a makeshift parliament convened in a tent after the defeated government refused to cede power.
With the doors to the actual parliament locked to try to stop the transition of power and the ousted prime minister refusing to obey Supreme Court orders, analysts warned that the island nation was experiencing a bloodless coup.
To break through the obstruction, FAST decided to conduct its own swearing-in ceremony, with Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu using her authority as a former attorney-general to act as clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
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Fiame took the oath of office in a marquee set up between the parliament and the courthouse, becoming Samoas first female prime minister.
However, ousted prime minister Tuilaepa who has held the role for 23 years has accused FAST members of treason and signalled he would not give up without a fight.
A makeshift parliament in Samoa to swear in the leader of the FAST Party, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, centre.
In a blistering speech on Monday, he called it treason and the highest form of illegal conduct, local media reported.
He criticised the legitimacy of the swearing-in and called FAST’s action on Monday a joke as well as being disrespectful and shameful, Radio NZ reported.
The caretaker government will continue to do what it has been doing. So leave it to us to handle this situation, media reported him saying.
During the swearing-in ceremony, the new MPs names were read out and Li’o Papalii Masipau was confirmed as the new Speaker of the House.
Analysts said that the country was in uncharted constitutional waters, with some warning that the ousted government could accuse Fiame and FAST of treason.
Who would have thought it got more complicated but it has, said Iati Iati, a political scientist at Victoria University of Wellington.
There was no sign of the Head of State, Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, who is reported to have left Apia and returned to his home village, or members of the judiciary in the tent during the ceremony, which was surrounded by police officers.
Caretaker prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi says the court cannot tell us to do this and that. (File photo)
Tuilaepa, whose Human Rights Protection Party has been in control for a long time, said on Monday, as the parliament buildings remained locked in an attempt the thwart the new government being sworn in, that the buildings were owned by the Government, run by him.
Since there is no new Government, all public servants listen to that [old] Government, Tuilaepa told HRPP members and supporters at party headquarters on Monday.
The court cannot tell us to do this and that. We all, all these three arms have a limit to their power. We question each other, he said.
Samoa has been stuck in political deadlock since the April 9 election, when Fiames FAST, which was formed by a breakaway group from the HRPP, gained the upper hand over the incumbent party, which has been in power since 1982.
The head of state declared last week that the parliament should convene on Monday, 45 days after the election, as required by law.
However, he later suspended the decision, saying the parliament would not convene until such a time as to be announced and for reasons that I will make known in due course.
On Monday, parliament in Samoa was locked.
The Supreme Court, in an emergency hearing on Sunday, called that decision unlawful and ordered Mondays parliamentary session to go ahead. Tuilaepa accused the Supreme Court of dirtying the name of the Office of the Head of State with the decision.
Then, at 8pm on Sunday night, Speaker of the House Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi said he took his orders from the head of state, not from the Supreme Court, and postponed the Monday session until the head of state made another proclamation.
Tuilaepa is now accusing FAST members of treason and suggested the speaker could also take further action.
Unable to enter the parliament buildings, the FAST party and its supporters continued their sit-in protest on Monday morning, filling the air with hymns and traditional Samoan songs.
The speaker can also issue an order of contempt of parliament to protect his role. This is the fusion of power of the three branches of our government, he said.
The clerk of the legislative assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei apologised on Monday for the doors to the parliament being locked, saying the situation was out of his hands.
Unable to enter the parliament buildings, the FAST party and its supporters continued their sit-in protest on Monday morning, filling the air with hymns and traditional Samoan songs.
Jacinda Ardern said she has faith in Samoas institutions and supports its democracy ahead of the parliamentary sitting.
In an apparent sign of their concern that the rule of law was not being upheld, the chief justice and other Supreme Court justices, flanked front and back by police and the police commissioner, walked the long driveway from the courthouse to parliament.
They walked up to the locked parliament doors, read the sign which said it was closed, turned and walked back. The Supreme Court ruled on Saturday night that parliament must open today but the Speaker of the House said on Sunday night that he did not take his orders from the justices.
Fiame said the judges had come to confirm what was happening at parliament. We are all witnesses that this arm of government did not do what the court had ordered, she said.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Fiame Naomi Mataafa is asking Samoa to be patient. (File photo)
University of Auckland associate professor Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni said the Samoan courts were being tested but appeared to be staying on top of the situation.
There are a lot of things at stake. You have got a government that has been in power for nearly 40 years, she said. A significant proportion of people have only known this government. You have got a country where service is not just about service to the role but service to loyalty and families.
University of Auckland associate professor Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni says the practical element of governance is going to make a decision in the end
Iati, from Victoria University, said
Samoa had been independent for only 60 years and was going through some growing pains.
Dr Iati Iati, from Victoria University of Wellington, says the country would need to define its parameters of powers.
A lot of democracies do have issues. Sometimes these things do happen. Constitutional crises do happen. Australia has had its moment and New Zealand has had its moment, he said.
It was not to be unexpected, he said, especially when the country had merged the Westminster system with its own traditional systems, he said.

  • Mandy Te contributed to this report.

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