The first woman Prime Minister-elect of Samoa was locked out of Parliament on Monday, leading to a constitutional and political crisis.
Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her party Faith in the One True God were locked out on her first day amid government orders to suspend Parliament. The head of state, Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, announced the suspension last week for unspecified reasons that led Mata’afa and her party to take their oaths under a tent in front of the locked building, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported Monday.
Tiulaepa Sailele Malielegaoi — who served as prime minister for 22 years — reportedly called Mata’afa’s authority illegitimate.
“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 in a speech after the ceremony, CNN reported.
Sualauvi also called the swearing of oaths and the appointment of ministers under a locked Parliament treasonous — the highest level of illegal actions. (RELATED: American Anti-Vaxxers Target Samoa, Severe Measles Outbreak Reported)
“This is treason, and the highest form of illegal conduct,” the head of state said at a news conference, according to CNN.
The Supreme Court of Samoa ruled Sunday that suspending Parliament before an election is “unlawful,” citing the constitution which states that lawmakers meet within 45 days of an election, according to NPR. Mata’afa told her supporters that they will meet in Parliament and “leave it to the law.”
In order to break the tie between Mata’afa and Tiulepa in the April 9 election, the Samoa electoral commission created a new seat appointing a candidate from Tiulaepa’s HRP party to fulfill the constitution’s gender quota requirement, which rules that 10% of parliamentary seats be held by women, CNN reported. After the April 9 election, only 9.8% of seats were held by women.
Sualavi announced a new election would be held to break the tie, but the Court overturned the commission’s new seat and the plans for a new election. Mata’afa, therefore, won the election by a 26-25 majority.
The Federated States of Micronesia formally recognized Mata’afa as Prime Minister on Monday, saying that it is a necessity to stand with the Samoan people in a time of constitutional crisis.
“As the FSM itself is a democracy that both upholds and promotes democratic values, it is imperative that we show our friends–especially during the darkest hours–that we stand with them,” Micronesia’s President David W. Panuelo said in a statement. “Recent weeks have been very troubling for the Samoan People, who have been witnessing what is arguably a Constitutional and Political crisis.”