Samoa faces a day of “real uncertainty” after the outgoing head of state proclaimed that parliament would not be convened today in a situation that’s “causing an enormous amount of harm”, a Pasifika academic says.
In an extraordinary move over the weekend, Samoan parliament’s speaker Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa'afisi disregarded a Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for the Legislative Assembly to convene today.
The FAST Party was expected to declare its majority when parliament met, and announce Samoa's first female Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa.
Leaupepe, who is a member of the caretaker HRPP (Human Rights Protection Party) government, invoked Section 30 of the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960 to continue as speaker.
“It’s very distressing. We’re entering a day of real uncertainty for the first time in this process. We really don’t know what is going to happen today,” said Damon Salesa, an Auckland University Pacific studies associate professor.
“We don’t know if the opposition MPs are going to turn up. We don’t know if parliament is going to be convened.
“We know what should happen. It’s very clear: the law says, and the Supreme Court has spoken on this, today is the day parliament should be convened by the clerk of the legislative assembly and then the head of state should be swearing in the MPs.”
Salesa said he didn’t know what mandate Leaupepe had to make the proclamation, but it was a move from HRPP and its leader Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa’s PM since 1998, to force another election.
“Clearly the game is to either have another election or to conduct something that would be like a legislative upturn, upheaval. I think this is a really concerning thing in particular if this a course which leads to a traditional Samoa confronting the western legal national Samoa,” Salesa said.
“That’s what many of us are concerned is behind this, that this is the way the Prime Minister sees he can contest the result.”
Samoa Observer journalist Sapeer Mayron called the situation “bonkers” and said it was a result of the HRRP party’s determination to not give up power.
“I suspect it’s through sheer determination — at this point, everything they are doing is with the mind to delay the inevitable. Every time they put up another barrier the court has to be asked to strike it down and they’ve done so diligently,” she said.
“The court has been phenomenal throughout this whole process. Now it’s possible we’re at the final frontier of how far these delay tactics can go.”
Mayron said there was the possibility that a new government could be sworn in today but it appeared that the HRRP’s goal was another election.
“It’s not totally clear from my reading of the constitution as a non-constitutional legal expert," she said.
"The other option is, apparently, the chief justice can step in and conduct the swearing in. Who knows, we may end up with a Government today after all.”
Salesa said the sitting of the supreme court yesterday was “totally extraordinary”.
“The courts have proven to be a real bulwark of the Samoan state. This is something many people weren’t sure how it would go,” he said.
“Even this situation where you are having proclamations at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night when everyone knows in Samoa, Sunday is a day very little can happen.
“We saw a totally extraordinary sitting in chambers of the supreme court yesterday to try unlock this problem so the nation can proceed.”
Salesa said the situation is a legacy of Samoan independence and the system that combines tradition and modern democracy.
“In Samoa it’s very different in the sense that we [New Zealand] have a Governor General but Samoa’s head of state is not just the head of a modern western institution.
“He is one of the heads of an ancient Samoan nation. He holds this position, essentially a royal position which really circumscribes what you can say about him and gives him a lot of independence because no one wishes to disrespect a person of such importance in Samoa.
“This is the legacy of Samoan independence. Samoans fought to have a state like this that combined the traditional and the modern.
“It shows we have to fight to preserve it.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for calm from those in Samoa, particularly from those who hold chiefly status.
“Here in New Zealand, we have faith in Samoa’s institutions, which includes its judiciary, which has been playing a very strong role interpreting its view on what needs to happen in the aftermath of the election,” she said.
"We always support Samoa’s democracy and I will call on others to do the same. Obviously now this is a really difficult crossroad, this is a big change for Samoa over what’s been occurring in the past 20 years in their elections.
“Our call would be to maintain and uphold the rule of law and that democratic outcome, you’re really seeing a call for cool, calm heads from those hold chiefly and orator status within Samoa, those that hold that wisdom just calling for that sense of calm as they work their way through this process.”