Samoa’s first female PM finally takes office after constitutional crisis

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has finally taken office as prime minister of Samoa more than three months after winning an election which sparked a constitutional crisis (Lukas Coch/AAP/AP)
7:45am, Tue 27 Jul 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Samoa’s first female prime minister has finally taken office, more than three months after winning an election which sparked a constitutional crisis.

A smiling Fiame Naomi Mata’afa sat in the chair her predecessor had been reluctant to relinquish after 22 years in power.

The 64-year-old then held her first Cabinet meeting, with members of her Fast Party dressed in the distinctive red clothes that party members and supporters often wear, and said they were ready to begin their work.

That could include a reset of the island nation’s relationship with China – on the campaign trail, Ms Fiame had pledged to stop a 100 million US dollar (£72.5 million) port development backed by Beijing, calling the project excessive for a nation that is already heavily in debt to China.

After a knife-edge election result in April, Ms Fiame’s predecessor, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, refused to concede defeat, despite several court rulings that went against him.

FILE – In this Sept. 29, 2019, file photo, then Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. More than three months after winning an election which sparked a constitutional crisis, Samoa’s first female prime minister was finally able to take office on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. After a knife-edge election result in April, Tuilaepa refused to concede defeat, despite several court rulings which went against him. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)

Mr Tuilaepa had two powerful allies in the nation’s head of state and the Speaker, who were able to stall the transfer of power.

A bizarre scene played out in May when Ms Fiame and her party were locked out of Parliament, with Mr Tuilaepa claiming he was still in charge. Both sides accused each other of trying to stage a coup.

Ms Fiame and her party members took oaths and appointed ministers in a ceremony held under a tent in front of the locked Parliament.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Ms Fiame said that day was charged with emotion.

“It could have gone pear-shaped, but we were able to keep calm,” she said. “We could have stormed the building and knocked down the doors, like in Washington DC. But we just sat and sang a few hymns, sang a prayer.”

Last week, the nation’s top court ruled the unusual swearing-in ceremony that day had been constitutional, and Mr Tuilaepa finally conceded.

Ms Fiame had previously served as Mr Tuilaepa’s deputy.

She said in the interview that she resigned after becoming concerned that M

Sign up to our newsletter