Samoan court overturns ‘illegal’ attempt to quash landmark parliamentary session
A rare Supreme Court session on Sunday in Samoa paved the way for the Pacific island nation to hold a parliamentary session that is expected to confirm its first change of government in nearly four decades.
The court canceled a late announcement on Saturday evening by head of state Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi which canceled Monday’s historic parliamentary session without explanation.
Her decision was challenged by the opposition FAST party, whose Fiame leader Naomi Mata’afa has the numbers to be installed as Samoa’s first female prime minister.
Following a cabinet meeting with FAST and the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese said the head of state’s announcement was “illegal”.
It is believed to be the first time that a tribunal has met in the religious nation on a Sunday, when almost all activities are closed.
FAST lawyer and former attorney general Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu told reporters the court issued an interim statement that it was illegal to prevent parliament from moving forward.
There has also been a standing statement that a court order last week rejecting an HRPP offer to prevent the opposition from taking power was “valid and legal,” she said.
“It was basically both orders. Our customers are ready to respond to anything that may arise, and continue to rely on the grace of God.”
A court clerk told reporters Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale “withdrew” from the cabinet meeting after being repeatedly invited by the chief justice to sit.
If parliament opens on Monday, it will end weeks of political uncertainty in Samoa since the April 9 general election, which ended with FAST and the HRPP locked at 25 seats each with an independent in parliament of 51 seats .
When the Independent sided with FAST, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi – who held the top post for 22 years – upped his numbers by adding an additional MP to his party under provisions setting the minimum quota of women in parliament.
He then persuaded Mr. Sualauvi to call a second election on May 21.
The courts overturned both measures and a panel of appeals judges on Friday rejected HRPP’s offer to stay the decisions.
Mr. Malielegaoi insisted that the HRPP still has the numbers to lead the nation of 220,000 people.
Ms. Mata’afa told the sitting chambers that court decisions should be followed.
“The refusal to accept defeat has gone from obstruction and defiance of the interim prime minister … to total disregard for the law,” she said.
“I expect Monday to be the dawn of a new day in our history.”
Samoa gained independence in 1962 after nearly 50 years as a New Zealand protectorate, and the HRPP has been in power since 1982, with the exception of a brief coalition period in 1986-87.
FAST leader Ms Mata’afa is the daughter of the first prime minister of the independent nation and is considered a pioneering feminist in the conservative and staunchly religious nation.
She was previously with the HRPP and was Mr Malielegaoi’s deputy until they argued last year over a series of controversial laws introduced by the government to control the judiciary.
She said last week that the HRPP had started to abuse its power after so long in power and it was time to make Samoa a functioning democracy again.
“I think what people are saying is that we haven’t had participatory government for a long time and they would like to be more involved in the governance process,” she told TVNZ.
She has previously criticized Beijing’s policies in the region and questioned a major Chinese port project in the island nation.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday defended the project, saying it “would promote the development of the local economy and create jobs”.