Head of State suspends Parliament
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.
“I Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, Head of State pursuant to my authority as the Head of State of Samoa, including Article 52 of the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, I hereby suspend my proclamation for the official opening of the XVIIth Parliament dated 20 May, 2021 until such time as to be announced and for reasons that I will make known in due course," his Saturday night proclamation read.
The decision comes after the Head of State had issued calls for a fresh election to be held last Friday; a move that was quashed by a panel of justices in the Supreme Court on Monday.
The Head of State justified the second, snap election call because he said he “observed with particular care, interest and concern" following last month's election and said that a poll would have put an end to uncertainty looming over the nation.
Earlier this week His Highness met twice with the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T) party, which triumphed with a slim majority after the 9 April election. After originally being non-committal he agreed to swear in Parliament in line with the constitutional deadline after the party advised him it now controlled a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly.
At the meeting was the Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, lawyers Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, Matafeo George Latu and F.A.S.T. leader, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.
In its Monday ruling, the Supreme Court reminded “directed” the “attention” of the Head of State to his obligation under the Constitution to convene Parliament by Monday.
The shock move comes as the nation expected an end to the rule of the current caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who has been in office for 22 years.
Fiame Naomi Mataafa, the leader of F.A.S.T. had been widely expected to assume the Prime Ministership, and become the nation's first female leader after her party controlled a 26-25 seat majority on the floor of Parliament.
The decision puts the Head of State in direct conflict with a Monday ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down two orders by the Head of State, one for a second election and another to add an additional M.P. to Parliament.
The court found His Highness' declaration of a fresh election - which had been scheduled for this coming Friday - “was not issued under any legal authority” and was declared void.
In another ruling by the Court of Appeal delivered on Friday, an application to dismiss a stay of motion to dismiss the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.)-aligned M.P. Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau was quashed.
The ruling went against a warrant of election signed by the Head of State expanding the size of Parliament, on the grounds that a quota for women's representation in Parliament had not been met. If upheld that would have placed the nation uin a 26-all political deadlock.
In their ruling, a panel of Court of Appeal judges led by the Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Simativa Perese, deciding unanimously with Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren, suggested that the Head of State become an independent office with its own legal advisers.
“We note that, arising from this constitutional issue, it may be timely for the office of the Head of State to have access to publicly funded but independent staff and resources, including legal advisors,” said Chief Justice Perese.
Speaking on Friday, Tuilaepa said that the decision to overturn the deadlock was based on faulty mathematics and had "severely undermined" the constitution.
A day earlier Tuilaepa had criticised F.A.S.T.'s meeting with the Head of State assuring him that they had the numbers on the floor of Parliament to form a Government as placing undue pressure upon him.
“This is their second meeting to pressure the Head of State’s decision. The Head of State has the authority to convene Parliament," he said.
According to a programme issued in advance of Parliament convening Monday was set to involve an opening ceremony which was to have 51 elected Members of Parliament take their Oath of Allegiance.
The opening was, to begin with the swearing-in of the Speaker of the House and Deputy Speaker.
That was to be followed by the swearing-in of all the Members of Parliament and a message from the Head of State.