In 2016, Fiame Naomi Mataafa became Samoa’s first female Deputy Prime Minister. She was the country’s first female Cabinet Minister in 1991, when she was given the role of Minister of Education. Now, at 64, she is set to become Samoa’s first female prime minister after its Supreme Court helped break a month-long political deadlock which followed a tightly contested election in April.
On Monday afternoon, local media reported that the Pacific nation’s top court overruled an attempt by the head of state Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, to nullify the election results.
The Supreme Court also dismissed the creation of an additional parliamentary seat after the elections which temporarily gave the incumbent government a majority.
The court’s decision will end the rule 22 year rule of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, clearing the path for Mataafa’s FAST party (Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi — Faith in the One True God.)
Malielegaoi said he would appeal the court’s rulings.
“There are major reasons for an appeal to be lodged,” he said in a televised speech. “These are mechanisms of the judiciary in the pursuit of justice.”
Mataafa was previously with Malielegaoi’s party – HRPP (The Human Rights Protection Party), which has been in power for four decades. She told reporters that Monday was “a day to give thanks to God and to all of you for having the heart for this country”.
“This is not about you or me, this is about the future of Samoa and protecting our inheritance of our ancestors,” she said. “We were almost too late, it was nearly taken forcefully from us.”
Mataafa, who is the only child of former Prime Minister Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, cut ties with the government last year after contending the changes to the country’s constitution and judicial system.
In April, the election resulted in a 25-25 tie between the FAST Party and the HRPP, with one independent candidate who subsequently decided to join Mataafa’s party, making it 26-26.
The electoral commissioner appointed an additional HRPP candidate, claiming the decision was done in order to comply with the constitutional gender quotas.
Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, the current head of state, then announced fresh elections to break the tie — elections which was scheduled to be held later this week.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled against both appointed candidates and plans for the new elections, after Mataafa’s party appealed, reinstating the Party to a 26-25 majority. This week, hundreds of FAST supporters gathered outside the court to celebrate.
“Glory to our Father!” the FAST Party wrote on Facebook. “Now its time to get to work.”
As a student, Mataafa studied at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. That country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said the latest events in Samoa, a country of just under 200,000 is “a significant moment.”
“It is certainly a meaningful thing when you see a historic decision made when the office is held by a woman,” she said.
Photo Credit: AFP