The Court of Appeal of Samoa on Friday ruled that the Faatuatua ile Atua ua Tasi (FAST) (‘Samoa United in Faith’) political party was the official winner of April’s national election, thus confirming the party’s leader, Fiame (honorary title) Naomi Mata’afa, as the country’s first female prime minister.
Mata’afa won the majority in the April 2021 election but defeated Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi refused to accept Mata’afa’s victory. Malielegaoi’s refusal to leave office lead to a constitutional crisis when Head of State Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II—for unknown reasons—issued a proclamation preventing Parliament from meeting to resolve the issue. Samoa’s attorney general requested the Samoa Supreme Court revoke the proclamation, but Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese rejected the request.
When Mata’afa and other FAST members were denied entry into Parliament following the election, they performed an ad hoc swearing-in ceremony outside the building. The Samoa Supreme Court declared the election win (and the swearing-in ceremony) to be illegal.
Friday’s decision overruled that of the Samoa Supreme Court. The decision comes after the United Nations urged Samoan leaders to resolve the conflict, citing potential international political fallout. It also officially ends Malielegaoi’s 22-year reign as prime minister. It is unclear whether he will honor the Court’s ruling.
In a press release, Mata’afa condemned Malielegaoi’s actions:
The law-breaking ex-Prime Minister and his weak and complicit officials have [ ] undermined the dignity of this land and all of its people… and that shame and that stain will be upon their hands forever. When the arrogant refusal to concede power, a power which is given by the people, becomes a grubby international incident, then our ex-Prime Minister has dragged us all to his lowly places and he and all his sycophants must go, and go quickly…
She also emphasized a shift in government, saying “we await, and are prepared for the next short period of undoubtedly taxing times, but simply ask that you keep the faith… help is on the way.”