Samoa has plunged into fresh political turmoil after its head of state abruptly cancelled a parliamentary session expected to confirm the Pacific nation’s first change of government in almost 40 years.
Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II’s order late on Saturday came two days before Samoa’s newly elected parliament was set to convene and swear in opposition FAST Party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as the country’s first female prime minister.
In a brief proclamation posted on Facebook, Sualauvi said he was suspending parliament “until such time as to be announced and for reasons that I will make known in due course”.
FAST said it would petition the Supreme Court to overturn the order on Sunday.
The appointed head of state’s decision was the latest twist in a political crisis that erupted after an April 9 general election ended in a 25-25 tie between the FAST Party and the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), with one independent candidate.
The electoral commissioner intervened, appointing another HRPP candidate, supposedly to conform to constitutional provisions setting out the minimum quota of women in parliament.
The independent candidate, meanwhile, chose to go with FAST, making it 26-26.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has held the top job for 22 years, then persuaded Sualauvi to call a second election for May 21.
FAST appealed and the Supreme Court last week ruled against both the appointed candidate and the plans for the new elections, restoring Mata’afa’s party to a 26-25 majority.
When a panel of appeal judges rejected HRPP’s bid for a stay on those rulings on Friday, Sualauvi called for parliament to sit on Monday, only to then cancel the order on Saturday night.
Radio New Zealand said Sualauvi’s latest proclamation raises constitutional issues “as parliament is meant to convene within 45 days of an election” and “any sitting beyond Monday would appear to be in breach of that”.
Malielegaoi, meanwhile, has insisted the HRPP still has the numbers to lead the nation of 220,000 while Mata’afa has said she will challenge the latest decision in court.
The daughter of independent Samoa’s first prime minister, Mata’afa was previously Malielegaoi’s deputy and split with the government last year after opposing changes to Samoa’s constitution and judicial system.
The 64-year-old said she “will stand by the rule of the law”.