“Patience is the key”: Samoa was elected prime minister, full of hope before the election political news
She is one of the most experienced politicians on the Pacific Islands, but the leader of the FAST (Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi) party, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, won one of the 51 parliamentary seats in the Samoa election last month. 26 victories are her biggest political battle in 36 years.
Since the polls on April 9, the Polynesian island country with approximately 199,000 people has been in an unprecedented political stalemate.
Many analysts believe that the rise of FAST was carried out under the leadership of former Deputy Prime Minister Mata’afa. This is the first signal of a severe electoral challenge to the current Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) in decades. The party is led by Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has been prime minister for 22 years.
But few people think of the dramatic and intriguing roller coaster that has swept across the country and everywhere since then.
Despite the uncertainty, the 64-year-old man remained calm.
“If the caretaker government continues to throw these things at us, we just have to deal with them. Of course, the court will accept them and go through the proper procedures. Therefore, I think patience is the key.
Last week, the electoral deadlock appeared to have been broken after the two main parties declared victory with 26 seats each.
After the Supreme Court rejected HRPP’s request to obtain an outside parliamentary seat to comply with the women’s representation rules, Mata’afa resigned in September 2020, then joined the FAST party and was sworn in as the new prime minister on May 24. Cause FAST Party to occupy a place.
However, in order to desperately prevent the transfer of power, Malielegaoi locked the door of the Samoan Parliament.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa did not hesitate to take the oath of office in an informal ceremony held on a nearby canopy, a plan called “treason” by HRPP.
Mata Afa rejected this request.
She said: “We have been enforcing election-related laws all the time…I tell you that our courts did stand up, which was very important at the time because we were not sitting in parliament and guarding the government was a temporary arrangement. “Say. “So this is a working institution, and thank goodness it is working.”
Considering her life experience in public life, her long-term view of the current crisis may not be surprising.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is the daughter of Samoa’s first post-independence prime minister Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II. She joined politics for the first time in 1985 as a member of the Lotofaga constituency.
Until 2016, before she became the Deputy Prime Minister of the HRPP government, she held various ministerial positions in education, women, community and social development, justice, environment and natural resources.
Under her leadership, the FAST party conducted campaign activities during the election period including anti-corruption, strengthening the rule of law, solving unemployment, and not only reviewing the country’s foreign debt and the track record of development projects.
Although she believes that Samoans need to resolve the impasse on their own and have the ability to do so, Mataafa welcomes the support of international agencies and bilateral partners.
The United Nations has provided assistance to find a solution, and the Federated States of Micronesia has publicly supported the new government.
She said: “I was told that Palau will follow the same approach.” She said: “In addition, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth has reached out to help. She talked with the Prime Minister and called me.”
Kerryn Baker, a Pacific Politics Researcher in the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, added: “The Pacific Islands Forum has proposed to take action. [mediator] Through the new Secretary-General Henry Puna (Henry Puna) and the “Biktawa Declaration”, play a role when necessary, and provide a framework for responding to regional security challenges that may arise. But I think many people in Samoa hope that this problem can be solved domestically without resorting to international intervention. “
The next obstacle for the FAST party is May 31, when the court will hear Malielegaoi’s appeal against the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish the additional seats of HRPP in Parliament.
“So, if he is unsuccessful in this matter, will he resign, because that is the last chance he really seized,” Mata Afa asked.
Although the current Prime Minister’s hijacking of Parliament has been described as a “no bloody coup,” there is no sign that the island nation will fall into turmoil.
Baker told Al Jazeera: “For Samoa, this is indeed a very tense and divisive situation, but I don’t think this situation will end in violence.” There are indications that this can be resolved, not necessarily quickly or easily. , But it can certainly be resolved through peaceful means. “
Mata’afa agrees: “Samoa is not that kind of place. People are very judgmental; they know the public way of life in Samoa very well, and it’s important to stay calm and let the process go smoothly.”
Focus on investment
Even if the fight for power continues, the elected prime minister still knows his priorities after he is still in office.
She said: “In terms of development goals, we really want to restore government infrastructure to its original position.” “Our education and health indicators are very poor. I think that under the leadership of our current government, we will stimulate the economy. The focus has always been on infrastructure projects. We want a wider population to participate in economic activities, so we want to increase investment in how to develop small and medium-sized enterprises.”
She is also eager to take a more rigorous approach to the country’s development and infrastructure, including the controversial Vaiusu Bay port project, which was publicly proposed by the Samoan government led by Malielegaoi in 2012.
The project was funded by China to provide up to 100 million U.S. dollars, which caused strong controversy among the Samoans. The Samoans believed that the project caused the Pacific island countries to increase their debts to East Asian countries. It is estimated that 40% of Samoa’s foreign debt is owed to China.
She said: “Someone asked me a lot of questions about the Chinese project, including the terminal.” “We did not prioritize this. Samoa is a small country and I think our current entry point is sufficient to meet our needs. China has been contacted. People, they said they would consider it [the wharf project], But without any signature. “
According to data from the World Bank, Samoa’s per capita GDP is approximately US$4,324, but it is estimated that 20.3% of the population lives below the national poverty line, and the unemployment rate is approximately 14.5%. The youth unemployment rate is close to 32%.
She said: “We have a lot of projects with the Chinese, and I think this is an opportunity for us to review.”
“What is the current model? Is this the most effective way for us to cooperate with our bilateral partners? But not only China, but also our other development partners,” Mata’afa said. “I think China, as a development partner and donor, also needs to participate in gatherings to understand some rules about working with us. It is always good to do this in an open and consultative way.”
Strengthening the rule of law is another key goal.
“We have three very controversial bills, which passed Congress very quickly. [last year] This is one of the key reasons why I walked away,” she said.
The new “Land and Title Court”, the “Constitutional Amendment” and the “Judicial Act” have aroused widespread opposition because they have been given too much power to the executive branch and have been weakened by the establishment of a new land and title court The Supreme Court challenged the ability to abuse power. the power of.
Mata’afa said that the legislation resulted in “complete destruction of the judicial and court system” and “a very dangerous precedent” by establishing an independent and autonomous land and property court with an unclear legal framework.
She said: “I am not saying that we should not have a strong land and property court, but in terms of national legal jurisdiction, it is important to show who is the highest authority.” “This has always been the Supreme Court, but now there is There is a problem.”
In addition to these long-term goals, Mata’afa also urgently needs a more coordinated response to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic, Samoa has only recorded 235 coronavirus cases, but sometimes implemented internal lockdown measures, restricting international travel and banning cruise ships.
She said: “I know that in the case of elections, no one wants to talk about the direct economic impact of COVID-19, but I think this is one of the things we have to deal with quickly.”