The leader of Samoa’s opposition party will assume office as the Pacific island nation’s new prime minister Tuesday, ending a three-month constitutional crisis sparked by her predecessor’s refusal to accept his party’s loss in parliamentary elections.
“FAST here is the government,” outgoing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told his supporters Monday, referring to the party led by Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who served as Tuilaepa’s deputy prime minister until the two had a bitter split last year.
April’s parliamentary elections ended with both Fiame’s Fa'atuatua I Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi party, or the FAST party, and Tuilaepa’s Human Rights Protection Party, or the HRPP party, with a 25-25 parliamentary tie. She achieved a narrow one-vote majority after an independent parliamentary candidate sided with her party, but the electoral commission handed down a decision that gave Tuilaepa’s party an extra parliamentary seat.
The Supreme Court ruled against the commission, as well as a separate decision by the head of state, Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, to void the results and conduct a new election. The court eventually ordered parliament to be in session in late May so Fiame could be seated, but Tuimalealiifano cancelled the session.
The deadlock ended last week after the Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that a makeshift swearing-in ceremony Fiame and her party held outside the parliament building was constitutional, ignoring Tuilaepa’s declaration of the event as treasonous and illegal.
Fiame will become 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 indebted to Beijing.
(Some information for this report came from Reuters.)