Locked Out By Predecessor, Leader Takes Oath in a Tent

Samoa's prime minister refuses to turn office over to the new one
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2021 5:55 PM CDT
Historic Tenure Arrives to Uncertainty Over Who's in Charge
In an image made from video, Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, center with fan, sits with her supporters Monday in Apia, Samoa.   (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

The leadership of Samoa was left in doubt Monday after the outgoing prime minister refused to leave and locked his successor out of Parliament. Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, who is to be the nation's first female prime minister, and members of her party took their oaths of office in the building's gardens, the BBC reports. Despite a court order to leave office following a close and disputed election, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi—who has been prime minister for 22 years—had the building's doors locked before Mata'afa and her allies arrived. Without being in Parliament, she couldn't form a government, and Monday was the last day to do that, per Insider. "There will be a time when we will meet again, inside that house," she told her supporters outside. "Let us leave it to the law."

The party clinging to power called the improvised swearing-in illegal. In a news conference Monday, Malielegaoi said: "There is only one government in Samoa, even if we are just the custodian government. We remain in this role and operate business as usual." Analysts said the situation was nearing the definition of a bloodless coup, per CNN. Nothing like this has happened since Samoa split from New Zealand in 1962. The Faith in the One True God party and the Human Rights Protection Party each won 25 seats in Parliament, and an independent won the last seat. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Aldern urged both parties to honor the election results but hasn't called for Malielegaoi to step down. She said New Zealand will not intervene in the dispute. (More Samoa stories.)

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