The small Pacific island nation of Samoa was thrown into a constitutional crisis Monday after Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi refused to leave office despite his party losing last month’s parliamentary election.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s party was narrowly defeated by the opposition party led by
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. Fiame showed up at parliament Monday to form a new government, but she and her supporters were locked out of the building.
The Supreme Court over the weekend ordered Parliament to be in session Monday so Fiame could be seated, but head of state Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II cancelled the session.
“We remain in this role and operate business as usual,” Tuilaepa told reporters Monday.
Fiame and her party were sworn in during a makeshift tent ceremony outside the locked parliament building, an action Tuilaepa denounced as treasonous and illegal.
The party later issued a statement defending the swearing-in ceremony, declaring “Democracy must prevail, always.”
If Fiame manages to take power, she would be Samoa’s first female prime minister and bring an end to Tuilaepa’s 22-year hold on power. She has pledged to cancel a $100 million port development backed by China, calling it an excessive expense for a country that is already heavily in debt to Beijing.
Fiame had served as Tuilaepa’s deputy prime minister until the two had a bitter split last year.
Last month’s election ended with both Fiame’s FAST party and Tuilaepa’s HRP party with a 25-25 parliamentary tie. The electoral commission handed down a decision that gave Tuilaepa’s party an extra parliamentary seat, but the high court ruled against the commission, as well as a separate decision by head of state Tuimalealiifano to void the results and conduct a new election.
Fiame holds a bare 26-25 majority with the help of an independent parliamentary candidate who sides with her party.