Samoa election: Mata'afa doubles-down on election win, says small steps are being taken to secure power

The United Nations (UN) is standing by as the battle for power continues to rage in Samoa, with Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata'afa doubling down on her election win despite the outgoing leader's refusal to concede defeat.

The organisation is waiting in the wings to ensure a peaceful transfer of power if caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the country's leader of 23 years, refuses to relinquish the reins. 

Mata'afa's FAST Party won the election on April 9 by a narrow margin, obtaining a 26-25 majority vote - an achievement that made her Samoa's first female Prime Minister.

But the country has since remained in electoral deadlock, with Tuilaepa unwilling to accept the results. It was understood Mata'afa would be sworn-in during a parliamentary session on Monday - however, she and her supporters were locked out of Parliament.

When the ceremony took place on the lawns outside the building, Tuilaepa accused the FAST Party of treason and leading a coup - and still has refused to step aside.

Yet Mata'afa says small steps forward are being taken, despite the barriers blocking the party's path to securing power. Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister-elect made it clear she would take the helm - eventually.

"We're still not in. Our Speaker, though, has begun the process of reclaiming Parliament," she said. 

"We won fair and square, it's a very narrow margin. We had two quite significant barriers put in our place - the introduction of a sixth woman into Parliament, and also the proclamation by the head of state to void the election of April 9 and calling for a new election. Those were quite substantial efforts by the caretaker government to block our coming into power."

However, Mata'afa believes Samoa's institutions are capable of putting an end to the power struggle, noting that options are available to remove Tuilaepa without international agencies intervening. 

"Our institutions are well set-up," she said. "We have a UN office here and they've already made a statement that they stand ready to assist with communications and negotiations. 

"There's [also] the option of the rule of law… the Police Commissioner has said he stands by [that]. If it gets to that point where [Tuilaepa] needs to be physically removed, we might go down that road."

In his fight to retain the role, Tuilaepa has accused the Fast Party of being akin to the mafia, stealing his authority, being overtaken by the Devil, and treason. Mata'afa says Tuilaepa's claims are evidence of "classic dictator behaviour".

"It's becoming more apparent now, especially through statements from the former Prime Minister, that he basically does not want to leave - he has the power... if that becomes more explicit, our country will begin to see what is really happening here."

Last Thursday, Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II declared Parliament should convene on Monday - 45 days after the election - as required by law. The stage was set for Mata’afa to be sworn in as Samoa's new leader.

But late on Saturday night, he changed his mind and suspended that proclamation. 

In an emergency hearing on Sunday, the Supreme Court called the Head of State's tdecision "unlawful" and ordered Monday's parliamentary session to go ahead. Tuilaepa accused the Supreme Court and their decision of "dirtying the name the Office of the Head of State".

Later that day, Speaker of the House Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi overturned the Supreme Court's order, reiterating his loyalty to the Head of State.

On Monday, Mata'afa and members of her party arrived at Parliament to find a heavy police presence and locked doors. The swearing-in ceremony subsequently took place on the lawns. 

"This is treason, and the highest form of illegal conduct. None of what they did is legitimate. The Devil has won and taken over them," Tuilaepa declared following the ceremony. 

On Tuesday, the Attorney-General put in a submission to the court to declare Mata'afa's swearing-in as unconstitutional.