In dramatic scenes in the Pacific country of Samoa, the government has refused to convene parliament and allow a transition of power, locking the prime minister-elect and her supporters out of the parliament building.
Samoa’s parliament was due to convene on Monday to swear in a new government, more than a month after a knife-edge election, which has been followed by legal challenges, the calling of a second vote, and intense constitutional manoeuvring.
The election was the most closely-fought in the country’s history and saw the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has ruled Samoa for 39 years, challenged by the insurgent Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party, which was founded in June 2020.
The election resulted in 25 votes apiece for HRPP and FAST, but the one independent MP threw his support behind FAST, giving them a majority.
HRPP then declared the country’s 10% quota for female MPs had not been met and appointed an additional female MP, boosting its numbers to 26. Samoa’s supreme court declared this use of the gender quota to be improper last week, clearing the way for a FAST victory.
After weeks of manoeuvrings by HRPP, the country’s supreme court on Sunday ordered the parliament to convene on Monday and allow the new parliament to be sworn in, which would have ended the country’s electoral drama and seen Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the leader of FAST, become the country’s first female prime minister.
Fiame was previously the deputy prime minister and defected from HRPP last year. She took on her former leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is the world’s second-longest serving prime minister and has been in the role for more than 22 years.
However, Tuilaepa’s caretaker government postponed Monday’s parliamentary session and locked Parliament House in the capital, Apia, blocking FAST MPs from entering.
“We are here to uphold the orders of the supreme court and convene parliament,” Fiame told FAST party members and supporters on Monday morning, outside the locked doors.
Samoa’s chief justice and judiciary and police commissioner, who perform roles in the swearing in of new members of parliament, also walked up to the Parliament House building on Monday morning, wearing full ceremonial robes, and were also locked out.
The clerk of the house Tiatia Lima Graeme Tualaulelei explained that the building had been locked on the orders of the Speaker of the House and the caretaker prime minister Tuilaepa.
“I am following instructions I was given,” Tiatia told Fiame during a public exchange.
She urged him to reconsider and open the doors, saying: “We need brave Samoans right now, return the power to the hands of the people, to our people to uphold our election. We pray to you Tiatia, you can do this.”
Fiame told supporters: “We will continue to sit here in the hallowed grounds of parliament that belongs to our people. If you will not let us into the house, we will stay here. We have all waited, they have all waited, the Paramount Chiefs, the Chiefs and all of us. There will be a time, when we will meet again, inside that house. Let us leave it to the law.”
Tuilaepa hosted a gathering of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) denouncing the actions of FAST at parliament grounds and accusing them of “breaking and entering”.
“They have desecrated the grounds of parliament, and have made a ruckus in our hallowed grounds, they are trying to use force to open the House of Parliament,” he said.
“They should know better,” he said. “There remains to be only one recognisable government even if it is a custodian government. The public responds to one prime minister and ministers and that is with this government.”