Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s first woman prime minister, has been sworn in in a tent outside the parliament in the capital of Apia after her predecessor locked her out of the building.
Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the world’s second-longest serving prime minister who has ruled the country since 1998, refused to stepped down after Mata’afa’sthe guardia April election win was validated by the country’s Supreme Court.
Tuilaepa’s allies then locked the parliament building on Monday May 24 when Fiame, the 64-year-old former deputy prime minister, arrived to be sworn in along with the chief justice and judiciary and police commissioner, who perform the swearing-in.
Instead, Fiame and members of her Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party gathered in a tent in the parliament’s gardens and were sworn in one by one, with supporters looking on.
Tuilaepa then questioned the legitimacy of the ceremony, denouncing her actions as “treason and the highest form of illegal conduct,” according to the Guardian.
“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.
Fiame’s party has declared her the new prime minister of Samoa on social media, saying in a statement that “Democracy must prevail, always. There can be no exceptions from this fundamental principle. Those who claim otherwise and act accordingly play with fire.”
The incident comes after the closest general election in Samoa’s history, which was then followed by legal challenges and calls for a second vote, according to the BBC.
It saw the FAST party, which was founded in June 2020, run against the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has ruled the country for 39 years.
The election resulted in 25 votes each for HRPP and FAST, but FAST gained a majority after one independent MP threw his support behind the party, according to the Guardian.
HRPP then said that the country’s 10% quota for woman MPs hadn’t been met and appointed an additional MP to boost its votes to 26. The election commission then revoked the results of the vote and called a fresh election for 21 May, according to the BBC.
Last week, five days before a scheduled second vote, however, Samoa’s Supreme Court declared HRPP’s move to be improper and ordered the parliament to convene on Monday to allow the new parliament to be sworn in.
Tuilaepa has yet to concede.
Both Australia and New Zealand’s foreign ministers have called for all parties in Samoa to respect the rule of law and democratic processes.
Fiame, the daughter of the country’s first prime minister and Polynesia’s first woman deputy prime minister, has been politically active since the mid-1980s.
She has announced plans to cancel a $100 million wharf development backed by China and promises to focus on sustainable developments as Pacific nations suffer heavily from the effects of climate change, the New York Times reported. She also pledged to ensure women continue participating in politics and to remove any barriers that stop women from contributing in society.