Samoan judiciary sends powerful rule of law message over ‘coup bid’

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Samoan Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese walks to Parliament
Samoa's Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese leads the judiciary on a symbolic walk to the Fale Fono to find the assembly locked. Image: Jaleen Tupai/SGN

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

Samoa’s judiciary sent a powerful message today to the other two branches of the country’s democracy amid a political crisis branded by critics as an attempted coup by the outgoing government that has held power for four decades.

Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese along with all members of the Samoan judiciary walked up to the doors of the Fale Fono (Parliament House) expecting the 17th Parliament to convene this morning, as ruled by the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon, reports Samoa Global News.

Just minutes before 9.30am the Samoan judiciary, escorted by Police Commissioner Su’a Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, walked in solidarity from the courthouse at Mulinu’u towards Parliament House.

A large crowd seated inside tents gave a loud cheer as the judiciary walked past them towards the front doors of the assembly, reports Samoa Global News.

The Chief Justice reached out his hands to open the doors. Finding them locked, he turned, paused for a second, and then made his way back through the crowd towards the courthouse.

Every member of Samoa’s judiciary walked in solidarity behind Chief Justice Satiu as the people of Samoa looked on.

“The symbolic stance to follow the rule of law taken by the judiciary sent a strong message to the other two pillars of Samoa’s democratic government — that they stand by the rule of law, enacted by Parliament, set down by the courts, and implemented by the executive,” reports Sina Retzlaff for the Samoa Global News.

FAST members and hundreds of invited guests arrived well before 9am at Mulinu’u and sat under a tent in front of Parliament House, awaiting the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

The Supreme Court had ruled that a proclamation to suspend the opening of Parliament was unlawful.

The court had also ruled that a previous proclamation by the Head of State directing Parliament to convene as required by Samoa’s Constitution within 45 days of an election — today Monday, May 24 – was still legal.

The Supreme Court had also directed that copies of the judgment be immediately delivered to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, together with the Attorney-General and the Head of State.

Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese
Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese finds the front doors to the Fale Fono in Apia locked today. Image: Jaleen Tupai/SGN

The majority FAST party — with 26 seats to the 25 of the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) — described the caretaker government’s actions this morning in locking it out of Parliament as “tantamount to a coup,” reports RNZ Pacific.

However, a swearing in ceremony was held later today in the tent outside Parliament, with Li’o Papalii Masipau being sworn in as the new Speaker. He delivering a general speech about what it meant to be a member of Parliament.

Fiame ‘sworn in’ as PM
Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was sworn in at the ad hoc convening of Parliament to become Samoa’s first woman prime minister.

“This would have been a beautiful moment, had it not been for the legal issues at play,” tweeted journalist Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson.

Another prominent journalist, Michael Field of The Pacific Newsroom, commented “calling yourself prime minister is one matter. But will the Pacific Forum neighbours recognise her as prime minister (see Biketawa Protocol) and will Australia and NZ?

“Or will everyone leave it for Samoa to sort out?”

Journalist Michael Field on the swearing-in confusion
Journalist Michael Field on the Samoan swearing-in confusion. Image: APR screenshot TPN

Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi condemned the swearing in, claiming it was a “coup” and he threatened legal action, reports RNZ Pacific.

“How does this make us look in front of other Pacific countries?” he asked.

“How does this make us look in front of our people in American Samoa? They used to look at us with respect, now we are seen as fools.

“They have disrespected the dignities of the chiefs and leaders of their districts, with their actions today.

“That was a joke, a joke. Oh my, where have we ever seen a Speaker sworn in – in a tent? shameful.”

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