I’m back from holiday, so this week we’ll be having a look at some interesting things that have going on in the last couple of weeks. First up, Samoa’s prolonged constitutional crisis, which came to an end last week after long-serving prime minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi finally conceded defeat and vacated his office.
Readers will remember that after the opposition FAST party won a majority, it was forced to conduct its own swearing-in ceremony back in May to try to circumvent Tuila’epa’s obstruction. At the end of June the Supreme Court ruled that this ceremony had no validity, but ordered parliament to meet so as to confirm FAST’s victory, leaving the door open to other remedies if this did not happen.
The head of state, Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Eti Sualauvi II, presumably acting on Tuila’epa’s advice, refused to call parliament, ostensibly on the basis that its membership was not yet settled because several election petitions were still outstanding. Meanwhile, petitions that had been dealt with were further eroding the position of Tuila’epa’s’s party, the HRPP.
FAST went back to court, and this time, with its patience evidently exhausted, the Court of Appeal ruled that the 24 May do-it-yourself inauguration was valid, and that FAST’s Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was lawfully the prime minister. The head of state then threw in the towel, and so eventually did Tuila’epa – saying, somewhat improbably, that he looked forward to working with the new government.
Australia, whose record of supporting democracy in the South Pacific could generously be described as feeble, congratulated Fiame, as did other regional powers – including China, previously a supporter of Tuila’epa. But clearly she will have her work cut out in trying to reform what has effectively been a one-party state for decades.
She will also need to be conscious of the fact that as yet she has no real popular mandate. Although it failed to win a majority of seats, the HRPP won a clear majority of the vote in April’s election. Whether that reflects genuine public sentiment is another question (as it often is in one-party states); certainly Tuila’epa and his cronies did not act like people who thought they were riding a groundswell of popular support. But perhaps the coming series of by-elections will throw some light on the matter.