Reti calls for support for Samoa bringing its parliament together

By Te Ao - Māori News

National deputy leader Shane Reti told RNZ today that New Zealand should support Samoa to bring its parliament together by promoting democratic principles. 

Samoa is in a political crisis with two "governments" challenging each other's legitimacy.

Reti said that since independence in the early 1960s, Samoa had "been a real beacon for democracy in the Pacific."

"We certainly respect both of the potentially incoming and outcoming prime ministers.

"Our efforts here should be to support democracy, bring that parliament together, and continue to be that strong voice for democracy in the Pacific.

"As long as we continue to support them and propose that democracy, in the future, should be based on what the electorates have given them, I think we can help bring them to the table.

How it happened

The FAST Party won the election after the sole independent MP agreed to support it. But the ruling HRPP Party convinced an electoral commissioner to appoint a woman MP under rules that require appointments if under 10% of MPs are female. The appointed female MP supports the HRPP Party and means the two parties have equal numbers of MPs.

Samoa's head of state proposed a second election but FAST persuaded the Supreme Court to reject that. The court also rejected the female MP appointment. The head of state first agreed to open Parliament yesterday for the new government to take over but then announced it would not open.

FAST Party leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa is the first Samoan woman to be elected prime minister of the island nation. She led her party to conduct a swearing in ceremony in a tent on Parliament's front lawn yesterday after the Speaker of the House locked the building. Her rival, Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who leads the caretaker government, called the ceremony "treason".

Malielegaoi's argument

In a briefing on Facebook today, Malielegaoi addressed Samoa explaining his view of the country's separation of powers, saying that the boundaries of each branch of government should respect one another.

Malielegaoi said Samoa was now starting to see the consequences of FAST's actions yesterday in being sworn in as the new government.

"Overseas governments are asking what exactly is going on. They are now starting to question the integrity and independence of the judicial system."

He repeated his claim that FAST had attempted a coup d'état.

"This is what happened, they have broken the law, they have disgraced the chief justice, they have disgraced our country.

"The head of state proclaimed that there would be no parliament sitting, so too did the speaker - which begs the question, what was the chief justice even thinking? It makes you wonder, where is our judiciary headed?

Seeking appeal

"FAST held a swearing-in ceremony where the chief justice was absent, so what exactly happened yesterday? They've taken away the duties of the chief justice and the head of state and acted in what seems to be their own power, and that to me is a definition of a coup."

"The Constitution states that Parliament cannot sit if female members make up less than 10 percent of members; we have to adhere to this law.

"No lawyer is above our Constitution. That is why we are refusing to go to Parliament, because the ruling of the Supreme Court is conflicting with our constitution, so what is our response? Appeal the decision."

So far, neither Samoan church leaders nor matai have taken stances on the dispute.