In an ad-hoc ceremony, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa from the FAST Party was sworn in as Samoa’s first female Prime Minister this afternoon, as political tensions in the nation continues.
Shut out of Samoa’s parliament the day it was meant to be sworn in, Fiame’s party, which holds a one-seat majority, gathered today under a tent in Apia.
The ceremony saw Fiame give her oath and name her cabinet. A new speaker was also appointed.
However, it is not yet clear whether the ceremony would be officially recognised. FAST MPs were sworn in by the former Attorney-General and their own lawyer.
It comes as Samoan parliament 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.
“[The] head of state didn't come. The legislative office locked the building so we couldn't access it,” Fiame said.
“But, I suppose the clerk was good enough to come and tell us he was beholden to his bosses [the speaker and the caretaker Prime Minister].”
She added: “It's very important that our members are sworn in. There are 26 of us so we can form a Government.”
Samoa’s chief justice, fellow judges and the police - there to uphold the law - were also unable to access the locked doors of parliament.
Meanwhile, the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his MPs refused to be sworn in, also disregarding the court ruling. Today, he was at his party’s headquarters surrounded by supporters.
His party, Human Rights Protection (HRPP), has dominated Samoan politics for more than 40 years. Tuilaepa himself has been in power since 1998.
In a press conference tonight, in Samoan, Tuilaepa asked how the saga made his country look in front of other Pacific nations.
"They have disrespected the dignities of the chiefs and leaders of their districts, with their actions today,” RNZ reported him as saying.
"That was a joke, a joke. Oh my, where have we ever seen a Speaker sworn in, in a tent? Shameful."
He said there was only one legitimate Government: his caretaker HRPP Government.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her cabinet discussed the situation in Samoa today. She said it wasn't considering any travel or aid sanctions at this time.
“Our strong view is we hold a huge amount of trust and faith in the institutions in Samoa - in the judiciary, in their democracy and, of course, in the outcome that the election delivered. Our call would simply be for all of those things to be upheld," Ardern said.
Under Samoa's constitution, parliament must sit within 45 days of an election, with today being the last day for it to be possible.
Over the weekend Samoa's Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II cancelled the opening of parliament "until such time as to be announced and for reasons that I will make known in due course", his order read.
An urgent court hearing overruled Sualauvi, before Speaker Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa'afis declared parliament would not convene until a new proclamation had been made by Sualauvi.