Pro-China Samoan Interim Prime Minister To Appear Before Court As Election Crisis Continues

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

Samoa’s caretaker Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, is set to appear before the country’s Supreme Court on Monday for refusing to follow orders issued by the court in May to open the nation’s Parliament.

Tuila’epa and three colleagues refused to open the country’s Parliament for a swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her opposition party FAST on May 24. The FAST parliamentarians then held an impromptu swearing-in ceremony outside Parliament House which Tuila’epa declared was an act of treason and “the highest form of illegal conduct.”

Tuila’epa, who is known for his pro-Beijing stance, has refused to admit that he and his party the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) lost the pacific island’s April election.

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Samoan Prime Minister Elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa speaks during the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 18, 2013. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

RNZ reports that the Supreme Court hearing will decide the extent of Tuila’epa’s role in the blockade of Parliament and whether criminal contempt applies to his actions.

The political upheaval has also been compounded by Samoa’s head of state, Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II, throwing his support behind the HRPP party and refusing to accept any court decision. Instead, in a statement (pdf) on July 5, he accused the country’s judicial branch of trying to “usurp” his authority.

“[The courts] have shown flagrant disregard, and disrespect, of the powers of the position of the head of state,” Tuimalealiʻifano said in a statement. “I read it as a direct threat to the legal authority, powers, and integrity of both the office of the head of state and that of the parliament of the independent state of Samoa.”

However, the actions of HRRP and Tuimalealiʻifano have created a potential pathway for FAST and Fiame to be legally instated as the governing party after the Supreme Court noted it would reconsider its decision to declare the impromptu parliamentary swearing-in of the FAST government illegal if the July 5 session of parliament was not held.

Tuimalealiʻifano did not open Parliament on July 5.

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Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Great Hall Of The People in Beijing, China on Sept. 18, 2018. (LINTAO ZHANG/AFP via Getty Images)

If the court does choose to make the impromptu swearing-in legal, Fiame, who shot to international prominence for stating she would scrap a Chinese-backed port development in Samoa because it was ‘excessive,’ will become the first female leader of the nation.

Meanwhile, both Australia and New Zealand have urged all parties to come together and allow for the formation of a government.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, in a joint statement, said that Australia acknowledges that the court ruling did not prevent convening the Parliament and urged everyone to cooperate.

“We urge all parties to cooperate, with a view to convening the parliament and enabling the formation of a government,” the statement said.

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (R) and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pose for a photograph in Auckland, New Zealand on April 23, 2021. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta had discussed the recent developments in Samoa and said they both believe the decision of the Supreme Court needed to be upheld, reported RNZ.

“There are obviously some deadlines for the convening of Parliament that are looming, and we continue to meet and talk about New Zealand’s position,” Ardern said.

The New Zealand prime minister also said she would discuss Samoa’s situation with the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, who was visiting Wellington this week.

Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark