Samoa’s Supreme Court declares Parliament must sit within week

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Deadlocked
Still awaiting resolution ... caretaker prime minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and the prime minister-elect, leader of FAST, Tuila'epa's former deputy Fiame Naomi Mata'afa. Image: Tipi Autagavaia/RNZ

RNZ Pacific

Samoa’s Supreme Court has ruled that the FAST party’s swearing in at Parliament last month was illegal.

But it has also ruled that Parliament must sit within seven days, giving FAST the ability to declare government and be sworn in.

Currently FAST has 26 seats, while the caretaker Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) government has 24.

However, due to the political and constitutional impasse since April’s general election, Parliament has not yet convened.

The court today also warned that any attempt to obstruct the convening of Parliament would be considered as contempt of court and parliament, and would subsequently force the court to validate the invoked principle of necessity “so that the business of the nation can proceed”.

The decision from the court follows an application from the Attorney-General to stop the legal effect of the impromptu swearing-in ceremony held by FAST on May 24 outside Parliament.

This ceremony was held after Samoa’s Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, a member of HRPP, prevented MPs-elect from FAST from entering Parliament, despite the Supreme Court’s order that Parliament be convened last month.

Contempt of court claim
Also in court this week the caretaker government and officials face accusations of contempt of court for their role in blocking the FAST party from being sworn in.

FAST argues the lockout at Parliament was in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that Parliament should convene.

The Appellate Court on Friday declared that the issue of a contentious sixth women’s electoral seat could not prevent the convening of Parliament.

The decision refutes the caretaker HRPP government’s claim that the extra seat must be appointed before Parliament could sit.

Fiame has written to the Head of State requesting the house sit on Tuesday.

Clear majority
The FAST Party now has a 26-24 seat majority following the HRPP loss of Sagaga No.2 this month in an electoral petition.

Both candidates have been voided for corruption and a byelection is pending.

The Samoa Observer reports that the caretaker prime minister – and leader of HRPP – Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi – has scoffed at FAST’s call to convene Parliament following the Appellate Court decision.

Tuilaepa said at least FAST have had the Appeal Court’s decision explained to them and they now understand what it means.

At an evening of singing at HRPP headquarters on Saturday, Tuilaepa said the court had clarified what the decision meant.

“And now they’re claiming they won and want Parliament to convene. There’s no decision like that,” the Observer quotes him as saying.

Tuilaepa maintains that Parliament cannot convene until all legal challenges are dealt with and until a sixth woman member has been chosen as per Section 44 of the Constitution.

Doubts over HRPP members
Meanwhile, the prime minister-elect is questioning the legitimacy of the HRPP MPs who were not sworn in by deadline.

The constitution requires Parliament to convene and members to be sworn in by the 45th day following an election.

None of the HRPP’s 24-member caucus have taken the oath for this term.

FAST says the lockout at Parliament was in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that Parliament should convene.

In Australia, the Morrison government has called on Samoa’s two political parties to cooperate and convene Parliament, while the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna has told media he has been assured by leaders of both parties that they will respect the court’s decisions.

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

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