Samoa swore in its first female Prime Minister in a makeshift ceremony in a tent on Monday after she was locked out of Parliament amid a power struggle.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s Faith in the One True God (FAST) Party said the dramatic turn of events amounted to a “bloodless coup” following weeks of uncertainty after the country’s deadlocked April 9 election.
Her narrow election victory was set to end almost 40 years of rule by the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has governed almost uninterrupted since 1982, and more than two decades with Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi as Prime Minister.
But in a late night decision over the weekend, current head of state Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aleto’a Sualauvi II canceled Monday’s parliamentary sitting without explanation, reports said.
Although Samoa’s Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that the order cancelling the parliamentary sitting was “unlawful,” FAST arrived at Parliament on Monday to find the doors locked.
FAST went ahead with the swearing-in ceremony Monday in a tent, RNZ reported, although it is unclear how legitimate those proceedings will be. Monday is the final possible day a new parliament can be formed under the constitution.
But in a speech after the ceremony, Malielegaoi questioned its legitimacy, calling it a “joke”.
“Only the head of state, and no one else, can call parliament meetings and swear people in. None of what they did is legitimate,” he said.
Initial results showed FAST and HRPP each won 25 seats in Parliament, with the final seat going to an independent MP, according to Samoa’s election commission.
That independent candidate opted to go with FAST, giving the party 26 seats. But the Samoan electoral commission created a new seat to fulfill a gender quota, in turn giving HRPP 26 seats, too.
Under Samoa’s constitution, at least 10% must be held by women. If the threshold is not met, then the highest performing unsuccessful female candidates are appointed.