She is one of the most experienced politicians in the Pacific, but Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, leader of the FAST (Fa’ui i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi) Party, won 26 of the 51 parliamentary seats in Samoa’s election last year. last month to claim The victory, facing the most struggle in his 36 years of politics.
The Polynesian island nation of about 199,000 people has not experienced political secession since the April 9 elections.
Many analysts have seen the rise of FAST under Mata’afa, a former deputy prime minister, as the first signature in decades of a serious election challenge to the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP). , led by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has been in office for 22 years.
But few are expecting the roller-coaster drama and intrigue ride that has come to the country and region since.
Despite the uncertainty, the 64-year-old remained unchanged.
“If the caretaker government continues to throw these things at us, we just have to skip them and, of course, take them to the courts and go through the appropriate processes. So, I think patience is the key , ”Mata’afa said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
Last week, it seemed the election stall, after both major parties claimed victory with 26 seats each, was shattered.
Mata’afa, who resigned in September 2020 before joining the FAST Party, is scheduled to be sworn in as the new prime minister on May 24 after the Supreme Court overturned the HRPP’s claim to an extra-parliamentary seat. to comply with the rules regarding the representation of women. resulting in the FAST Party leading up to a lead seat.
However, in a desperate attempt to prevent the transfer of power, Malielegaoi locked the doors of Samoa’s parliament.
Undeterred, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was sworn into office in an unofficial ceremony at a nearby marquee, an initiative described by the HRPP as “betrayal”.
Mata’afa has abandoned such claims.
“All the time, we follow the law about elections… and let me tell you what, our courts are really standing up, which is very critical at the moment because we don’t have a parliamentary seat and the ruling government is a temporary arrangement, ”he said. “So, that’s the working body and thanks for fixing it.”
His excluded long-term view of the current crisis is perhaps not surprising, given his lifelong experience of public life.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was the daughter of the first prime minister after Samoa’s independence, Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, and first entered politics as a Member for the Lotofaga constituency in the main Upolu Island in the country in 1985.
She held various ministerial portfolios for education, women, community and social development, justice, environment and natural resources until 2016, when she became deputy prime minister of the HRPP government.
Under his leadership, the FAST Party campaigned during the election on issues including fighting corruption, strengthening the law, tackling unemployment, and reviewing not only the country’s foreign debt and tracking the record of development project
Even if he believes that Samoans need to solve themselves – and have the capacity to do so – Mata’afa welcomes offers of support from international agencies and bilateral partners.
The United Nations has already offered their help to find a solution, and the Federated States of Micronesia publicly supported the new government.
“I was given the message that Palau will follow in the same way,” he said. “Also, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth arrived, he spoke to the PM and he also called me,” he said.
Kerryn Baker, Pacific policy associate at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, added, “The Pacific Islands Forum offers to act on [mediator] paper if necessary, by the new secretary-general, Henry Puna, and the Biketawa Declaration offers a framework for addressing regional security challenges that may be demanded. But I think a lot of people in Samoa are hoping that it will be resolved in the country, without resorting to international interventions. “
The next hurdle for the FAST Party is May 31, when the court hears Malielegaoi’s appeal against the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the HRPP’s additional seat in parliament.
“That way, if he’s not successful in that matter, will he step down from the post, because that’s the last handle he hangs on,” Mata’afa asked.
While the hijacking of the prime minister’s prime minister has been described as a “bloodless coup”, there is no indication that the island nation will come out of chaos.
“It’s true that it’s a really tense and divisive situation for Samoa, but I don’t see it ending the violence,” Baker told Al Jazeera. There is every indication that it can be resolved, not necessarily quickly or quickly, but certainly by peaceful means. ”
Mata’afa agreed: “Samoa is not that kind of place. People are very measured; they know the communal style of living in Samoa, which is very important to stay calm and let the processes go. “
Invest in a focused mind
Despite continuing to work hard, the prime minister-elect has remained clear about his priorities once in office.
“We really want to put government infrastructure back in the right place, in terms of development purpose,” he said. “Our indicators for education and health are not very good. I think in our current government, the priority in terms of economic mobilization is part of infrastructure projects. We want to include more of the population base in the economy, so we want to invest more in how we can grow small and medium businesses. “
He is also excited to come up with a more rigorous approach to development and infrastructure in the country, including a controversial Vaiusu Bay port project proposed publicly by the Government of Samoa, under Malielegaoi, in 2012.
The project, which will cost China up to $ 100m, has been highly controversial among Samoans, who have seen it add to the East Asian country’s rising Pacific Island state debt. It is estimated that 40 percent of Samoa’s external debt is China’s debt.
“I get a lot of questions about Chinese projects, including the port,” he said. “We didn’t put it first. Samoa is a small country and I think our current entry points are more than enough to meet our needs. The Chinese were approached and they said they would look into it. [the wharf project], but no signature. ”
While Samoa has an average GDP per capita of nearly $ 4,324, according to the World Bank, an estimated 20.3 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line and unemployment is about 14.5 percent. Unemployment among youth is nearly 32 percent.
“We have a lot of Chinese projects and I think it’s a time for us to review,” he said.
“What is the pattern? Is this the most effective way for us to work with a bilateral partner? But not only China, including our other development partners, is like that, ”Mata’afa said. “I think China, as a development partner and a donor, should also go to the party and know some of the laws about how we work. It’s always good to do this in an open and consultative approach. ”
Strengthening the rule of law is a primary goal.
“We have three controversial inquiries being processed by parliament as soon as possible. [last year] and it was one of the reasons I left, ”he said.
The new Land and Titles Court, Constitution Amendment and Judicature Bills have provoked widespread opposition because they are seen as giving excessive executive power as well as weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge abuses of power by creating a new Court of Land and Titles with fire-reach power.
Mata’afa said the legislation led to “complete destruction of the judicial and court system” and, by creating an independent and autonomous Court of Land and Titles with an ambiguous legal framework, “a very dangerous precedent “.
“I’m not saying we don’t need to have a strong Land and Titles Court, but in terms of a national legal jurisdiction, it’s very important to announce who has the superior authority,” he said. “That was always the Supreme Court, but now that’s what’s in question.”
Beyond long-term goals, Mata’afa also sees the urgency for a more coordinated response to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Samoa has recorded only 235 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, it has sometimes imposed internal lockdown measures, as well as international travel bans and banned cruise ships.
“I understand that, under electoral conditions, no one wants to talk about the immediate economic effects of COVID-19, but I think that’s one of the things we need to do quickly. get it, ”he said.