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A very Samoan coup

Written By: - Date published: 10:07 am, May 23rd, 2021 - 43 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, elections, Pacific - Tags:

In overnight news the Samoan head of state Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II has suspended the recalling of Parliament due to occur on Monday.

From Joyetter Feagaimaali’i at the Samoan Observer:

Samoa has been thrown into a constitutional crisis after the Head of State suspended Parliament’s scheduled Monday sitting in a shock last-minute move moments ago.

In a statement issued a short time ago, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, announced that he was suspending Parliament “pursuant to his constitutional authority”.

The move directly undermines an earlier writ signed by the Head of State signed this Thursday, which confirmed Parliament would convene on Monday to meet a constitutional obligation.

The Head of State did not give any reasons for the suspension but said he would make his justification known in due course.

The proclamation apparently brings the Head of State into conflict with a constitutional provision requiring that Parliament convenes within 45 days of a national election being held.

The final date for that swearing-in is on Monday, which is 45 days after the 9 April national poll.

The historical background is the stunning win of the FAST is set out in this Stuff Article written by Mandy Te:

For 39 years, Samoa has had the same political party – the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) – in power, and the same leader since 1998.

HRPP was founded by Va’ai Kolone​ and Tofilau Eti Alesana​ in May 1979.

At the time, the party was the opposition to the then-prime minister Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Efi​‘s government.

HRPP supported a general strike in 1981, organised by the Public Service Association, that saw thousands of public servants protesting over pay disputes, according to a discussion paper by Antony Hooper​.

Government operations were paused, schools were closed and communication with other countries was hindered, the paper said.

In some ways, this strike helped the HRPP come to power in 1982.

The country’s longest-serving leader, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi​, entered politics in 1981 and became prime minister in 1998.

And of the recent election she said this:

The election began on April 9 and preliminary results showed a dead heat.

The HRPP and the FAST Party were tied at 25 seats each in a 51-seat parliament, and Independent MP Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio​ found himself in the role of “kingmaker”.

This dead heat continued again when Ponifasio sided with FAST Party and Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuaau​ from HRPP was appointed to parliament as part of the article on female representation.

Newcomer Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa Ua Tasi (FAST) Party​ was the opposing party in this year’s election.

Last year, the FAST Party was formed on July 30, by former speaker of the Samoan Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt​.

It is led by former deputy prime minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa​.

The recent election ended up in deadlock.  The one independent MP went with the FAST party but the Government relied on a constitutional provision that required 10% of the Parliament to have a further Government supporting MP appointed.

The head of state entered the fray and called for a new election based on the deadlock.

FAST took the matter to Court where it was held that the appointment of the new MP to ensure the gender quota was not breached was unconstitutional.  A further case decided that the Head of State’s calling of a new election was also unconstitutional.

Then last night Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II issued this proclamation:

You have to wonder about the timing.  In Samoa Sunday is Church Day.  Very little else happens.  Despite this the Supreme Court will sit as a matter of urgency today.

The result was interesting.  The HRPP party, such was its confidence, had stood multiple candidates in electorates and some FAST candidates made it through because of vote splitting.  I am sure the same thing will not happen at the next election, whenever it is.

This is not over yet.  The next 24 hours will be vital for Samoa’s democratic future.

Update:  three Judges of the Supreme Court have ruled that the announcement is “unlawful” and that Parliament will meet tomorrow.

It will be interesting to see how far Malielegaoi pushes this.

43 comments on “A very Samoan coup ”

  1. Anne 1

    "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • arkie 1.1

      But although the cliche says that power always corrupts, what is seldom said … is that power always reveals. When a man is climbing, trying to persuade others to give him power, concealment is necessary. … But as a man obtains more power, camouflage becomes less necessary.

      Robert Caro

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    It sounded exactly like a coup on the RNZ news this morning.

    Interesting stuff, both the HRPP and FAST are essentially Christian conservative Parties though?

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    The Head of State seems to be Somoa's Sir John Kerr but hes maintaining an unelected government by extra constitutional means.

    The extra seat for women – to make six- defies the words in constitution which gave (5) as the minimum, they would have to have 60 Mps for a minimum of 6.

    Now the Head of State wants to defy the constitution again, as parliament has to sit on Monday as thats the prescribed number of days.

    I can see him refusing to accept the new PM once the parliament sits.

    Its Fiji all over again, as that was the core reasons for its coups, removal of longstanding party from power by the voters wasnt allowed to stand

  4. Sacha 4

    Update: three Judges of the Supreme Court have ruled that the announcement is “unlawful” and that Parliament will meet tomorrow.


    • Ad 4.1

      Even if this is just a hiccup, patriarchy isn't overthrown in a day.

      She is going to have to expect severe undermining from all societal forces.

      This new PM needs NZ's help, and we have the Foreign Minister to do it.

      • Sacha 4.1.1

        MFAT has seemed all too silent.

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          What , so they should be acting as a colonial power does ?

          • Ad

            Samoa is dependent on New Zealand for most things.

            Colonial or neocolonial, Samoa is showing it has a weak democracy that needs international support.

            Once the new PM has her feet under the desk, she'd do well to get support from us.

      • Anne 4.1.2

        This new PM needs NZ's help, and we have the Foreign Minister to do it.

        What's more I think she will do it. Even if its behind the scene.

        • Ad

          Samoa’s stability is by some large measure more important to New Zealand than anything happening in Palestine. The PM must be seen to act as if Samoan democracy itself is at stake, and not mumble.

          We don’t need another repeat of our failure to intervene as per the Fiji coup of 1987. Prime Minister Lange was on record wanting to see us go in there with the SAS at least.


          • Pat

            I wonder how we'd feel if Aussie or the UK decided we needed the benefit of their SAS units

            • ghostwhowalksnz

              " we'd feel if Aussie or the UK decided"

              You forget that the PM of that day was the newly elected Tomoci Bavadra ( for 1 month) head of a coalition of Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party.

              If the Fijian PM asked NZ intervene we should have…. so unilateral intervention doesnt apply

              • Pat

                "If"…..and with a very evenly divided electorate which group has the moral authority to ask for (outside) military action on its behalf?…..I'd suggest that before any fools rush in, the citizenship should be allowed to resolve their own problems and only IF civil war breaks out is there any consideration of military assistance.

                • ghostwhowalksnz

                  Not at all….thats a red herring . It was a military coup trying to remove the PM, which suceeded. If its evenly divided electorate then the voters can remove the PM next election.

                  There was no chance of a civil war as the fijian army held all the aces. And once they were in power NZ wasnt going to touch the place.

                  • Pat

                    I was referring to the current situation in Samoa….but the same applies to the historical Fiji situation.

          • mickysavage

            He famously sent a telegram to the military telling them to get into the country to help hold the peace and they declined to do so.

            • Anne

              The military didn't like David Lange because he stopped them from playing war games with the US and the Brits.

            • ghostwhowalksnz

              "they declined to do so."

              I think they talked him out of it as 'declined to so' is serious military offence. The Minister of Defence, , then the Governor General- who is Commander in Chief are the superiors of the Chief of Defence

              To refuse a direct order from the Minister of Defence would mean the Trentham Camp lockup and instant dismissal from their military appointment

  5. Ad 5

    If this goes like Fiji, it's time for Minister Mahuta to dust of the 1962 Treaty.

    This is a country that relies on NZ for most things (defence, aid, remittances, trade), and there's no time like this for a WTF phone call.

    Nothing like triangulating with U.S. Samoa as well to send a consistent message.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 5.1

      1962 Treaty here

      Not much we can do unless they ask

    • McFlock 5.2

      I'm sure China would like to pick up our slack if we impose sanctions on Samoa.

      • Ad 5.2.1

        Just support and counsel as the entire political order has to slowly reform away from the HRRP.

      • Foreign Waka 5.2.2

        Yep, I believe they are already waiting in the wings to take over the pacific. Well, call it diplomacy or chicken run, either way NZ is in a unique position to get talks and confirmation of the status of Samoa's political system confirmed. Sounds like a monarchy in disguise to me. Someone does not understand what democracy means, so maybe some definition is required and if NZs aid is designed around that, perhaps that needs to come to bear.

  6. Sacha 6

    Still at it.

  7. I wonder if the Judges of the Samoan Supreme Court can issue an arrest warrant for MPs of the HRPP party which compels them to be taken to parliament and for a sitting to be held. would be nice to see.

  8. Politics is concentrated economics.

    Lurking in the background is big power economic and political rivalry.

    On one side is the HRPP party and Chinese joint plans to develope a large port infrastructure project

    On the other is the FAST party and the Western Pacific Alliance who want it stopped.

    Samoa to shelve China-backed port project under new leader

    By Jonathan Barrett

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Samoa's expected new prime minister has pledged to shelve a $100 million Beijing-backed port development, calling the project excessive for the small Pacific island that is already heavily indebted to China…..

    ….The proposed construction of the wharf in Vaiusu Bay has been a divisive issue in Samoa, playing a part in April elections where long-serving leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi lost his parliamentary majority.

    The project has also threatened to spark a waterfront contest in the Pacific as the United States and its allies respond to China's growing regional influence.


  9. Big power rivalry

    Samoa to scrap China-backed port project under new leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa

    Samoa's expected new prime minister has pledged to cancel a $128 million Chinese-backed port development, calling it excessive for the small Pacific island that is already heavily indebted to China….

    …..The project was in the final stages of negotiation with China, with work set to begin when international borders reopen, according to a January report in the Samoa Observer, citing Tuilaepa…..

    ….However, China's investment has drawn greater interest and criticism.

    Facilities that could be turned into military assets pose a challenge to the US and its regional allies, which have dominated influence in the world's largest ocean since 1945.


  10. Pot calls the kettle black

    The U.S. criticises China for practicing neo-colonialism.

    Samoa to scrap China-backed port project under new leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa

    …..The US and other Western countries have criticised China for extending loans to poorer countries for infrastructure projects that risk saddling them with unsustainable debt. China rejects the criticism….


    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    ….Neocolonialism is the practice of using economics, globalisation, culturual imperialism and conditional aid to influence a country instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony). Neocolonialism differs from standard globalisation and development aid in that it typically results in a relationship of dependence, subservience, or financial obligation towards the neocolonialist nation. This may result in an undue degree of political control [1] or spiraling debt obligations,[2] functionally imitating the relationship of traditional colonialism…..

    …..There is an ongoing debate about whether certain actions by the United States and China should be considered neocolonialism.[7]


  11. Jenny How to get there 12

    As the stand off between the HRPP and FAST committed to cancel the huge Chinese port project continue into its third week

    Behind the scenes the Superpowers tool up.

    US Air Force Plans to Buy More Bombs 'Better-Suited for Operations in the Pacific'

    …….the U.S. Air Force indicated that it plans to buy fewer small-diameter bombs in favor of spending heavily on "state-of-the-art, long-range weapons that are better-suited for operations in the Pacific," Military.com reported Tuesday.

    The Air Force's proposal is consistent with other investments outlined in Biden's Pentagon budget request, including billions of dollars for U.S. nuclear weapon modernization and the so-called Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is purportedly aimed at "countering China's military build-up in Asia."

    US Air Force Plans to Buy More Bombs 'Better-Suited for Operations in the Pacific' | Common Dreams News.

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