WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – More than three months after winning an election that caused a constitutional crisis, Samoa’s first female prime minister was finally able to take office on Tuesday.
A smiling Fiame Naomi Mata’afa sat in the chair that her predecessor refused to relinquish after 22 years in power. She held her first cabinet meeting, with members of her FAST Party dressed in the distinctive red robes that party members and supporters regularly wear.
Fiame, 64, said they were ready to start work.
This could include restoring relations between the island and China. On the campaign, Fiame promised to stop a $ 100 million port development backed by Beijing, calling the project excessive for a country already heavily indebted to China.
Following a result of the April election, Fiame’s predecessor Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi refused to concede defeat, despite several court rulings against him.
Tuilaepa had two powerful allies in the head of state of the country and the speaker, who could stop the transfer of power.
A bizarre scene unfolded in May when Fiame and her party closed outside parliament, with Tuilaepa claiming he was still in charge. Both sides accused each other of trying to carry out a coup.
Fiame and her party members took oaths and appointed ministers during a ceremony held under a tent in front of the closed parliament.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Fiame said the day of emotion was charged.
“It could have been pear-shaped, but we could stay calm,” she said. ‘We could storm the building and slam the doors, like in Washington, DC. But we only sang a few hymns and sang a prayer. ‘
Last week, the country’s high court ruled that the unusual swearing-in ceremony was constitutional that day, and Tuilaepa finally conceded.
Fiame previously served as deputy to Tuilaepa.
She said in the interview that she resigned after she became concerned that Tuilaepa and fellow lawmakers were ‘going off track’ by trying to intervene politically in the country’s legal system and judiciary.
“It was a classic case of power and corruption,” Fiame said. ‘We slipped away from the rule of law, and I did not like it. But most of the parties wanted to go along with it. ”
She said Tuilaepa never thought he could lose the election, especially given his large parliamentary majority that led to it.
“He was shocked and deeply denied,” she said.
Fiame’s election victory is seen not only as a milestone for Samoa, which is conservative and Christian, but also for the South Pacific, which had few female leaders.
Fiame said she did not believe her gender was a major issue in the election, and that her role in the traditional mainstream system was perhaps more important to voters. But she hoped that in other areas she would be a positive role model for women in the Pacific, showing what they could achieve.