FAST heading back to court to try and resolve political impasse in Samoa

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa being sworn in
FAST party leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa being sworn in as Samoan Prime Minister in the ad-hoc ceremony in Apia yesterday. Image: Samoa Global News

RNZ Pacific

Samoa’s FAST Party is expecting to face another day locked out of Parliament today and is also predicting a long year ahead to resolve the country’s constitutional crisis.

Accusations of coups and treason are flying as the standoff between the majority FAST party and the defeated caretaker government shows no sign of ending.

The Supreme Court had ordered Parliament to sit, overruling the Head of State’s decision to cancel Monday’s sitting.

However, FAST was barred from entering the Parliament building after Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who has been Prime Minister for 23 years and is leader of HRPP, directed the Speaker to lock the doors.

The FAST party of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa held its swearing in ceremony in a tent on the parliament’s grounds.

A spokesperson for the FAST party, Apulu Lance Polu, told RNZ Morning Report it was a day of drama yesterday but he did not expect Parliament would be open today for carrying on its normal business.

“But court cases are starting today so I can see that from yesterday it’s going to be a long day in terms of business for a new government and I think it’s going to be a long year in so far as trying to resolve the constitutional and political stalemate that is happening in Samoa at the moment.”

Significant events
Asked about the reasons for taking more court action, when the courts had already ruled in FAST’s favour, he said significant events occurred yesterday.

“I think since events yesterday we expect something to come from the courts and the judiciary.”

Apulu Lance Polu
FAST spokesperson Apulu Lance Polu … repeated his accusation that the defeated caretaker government is staging a bloodless coup. Image: Samoa Observer

He said the threats from the caretaker prime minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, after the swearing-in meant he could be planning something, Apulu said.

Apulu repeated his accusation that the caretaker government is staging a bloodless coup.

Fiame sworn in - Samoa Observer
“Fiame sworn in” – the Samoa Observer today. Image: APR screenshot

“It’s the rule of law that has been stomped on by the caretaker government and they are claiming that it’s a constitutional crisis.

“There are cases before the court and they want those to be resolved first before any new government can be instituted.”

FAST was upholding the law yesterday because parliament needs to meet within 45 days of the election.

After 45 days the head of state will need to announce new elections which is what the caretaker government is wanting, Apulu said.

FAST needs to work out how it will get a smooth transition and be able to work with the government departments.

He can foresee some issues and the party will be looking to the courts for more legal direction on how this would be implemented.

Social media divisive, says Collins

Otara Health chairperson Efeso Collins.
Manukau councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins … confident the situation will not turn violent. Image: Efeso Collins. Image: Jessie Chiang/RNZ

The standoff in Samoa is also causing division in the diaspora, including in Auckland.

Some are taking to social media to air their views, and in the churches, there are prayers for calm and unity.

Manukau councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins said that within Auckland’s Samoan community there was huge concern and uncertainty about what will transpire.

He told Morning Report he was confident the situation would not turn violent, in part because the high chiefs were maintaining their control within the villages.

“The challenge we have before us for our home nation is how there will be a transition to new government,” he said.

“What we saw yesterday with FAST having a swearing in outside on the grounds of parliament is quite mind-blowing really because we’ve never seen anything like it before.”

"Democracy in crisis" - New Zealand Herald
“Democracy in crisis” – New Zealand Herald today. Image: APR screenshot

He said there was some way to go but he was confident there would be a peaceful transition at some stage.

There were prayers on Sunday and a lot of churches are calling for peace.

“I think there’s real sadness, I think there’s growing anger as well, there’s frustration depending on where you sit on the political fence.”

Comments on social media were showing the level of frustration and are detrimental, he said.

There are deeply entrenched levels of support within families and villages for each party.

“So we’ve got to be careful, sensitive around our comments which is why there’s an ongoing call for peace and calm especially from those who are outside of Samoa looking in and feeling disappointed at what’s happening at the moment,” he said.

“It’s important that we stay connected to our families that are there.”

Court battle predicted in Samoa
Correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia told Morning Report there may be another court battle.

He said Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said last night that her FAST party intended to start its newly formed government.

“But the caretaker prime minister, in his announcement last night after the swearing in ceremony, has called on the country to stay calm,” Autagavaia said.

“He met all the chief executive officers of the public service and then reminded them that … the caretaker government is still in power and to look after the country until such time as parliament will be called to be sworn in.

“I understand the Attorney-General last night issued a statement saying that the swearing in that happened yesterday is unconstitutional and unlawful.

“So the crisis is getting deeper and I’m sure it will go back to court.”

Despite the division and support for rival parties, people were calmly awaiting the outcome of court rulings, he said.

“When we left the Parliament House about 7 in the evening we saw the ruling HRPP headquarters with many cars there, and members of the caucus of the HRPP camping in their headquarters, but there was no tension – people are still staying calm.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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