Monday, June 28, 2021

The end of the legal road for the HRPP

Three months ago Samoa had an election, in which the people voted out the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party and voted in the opposition FAST Party. The HRPP ignored the results, attempted to appoint another MP, then when that was ruled illegal by the courts, simply refused to let Parliament meet, triggering a full-on constitutional crisis. There's been a lot of legal back-and-forth since then, as well as an election petition which has removed any doubt as to FAST's majority, but there have been two significant decisions in the last few days which mean that the HRPP has hit the end of the legal road. In the first, delivered on Friday, the Court of Appeal clarified an earlier ruling to make it clear that parliament could convene before all election petitions and by-elections were resolved. And in the second, delivered today, it ordered parliament to sit within seven days, and that any attempt to interfere with this would constitute contempt of court.

This is the end of the legal road for the HRPP. They've been trying to prevent parliament from meeting because on the current numbers, the "caretaker" Prime Minister Tuilaepa will be voted out and their regime will end (they've even been willing to do this at the cost of creating a budget crisis and government shutdown). But now there's an explicit order, applying to the head of state, the former Speaker, the Clerk, the Attorney-General, and all the other people who have worked for two months to frustrate democracy. And its backed not just by a threat to find people in contempt, but an explicit threat that the court will decide that FAST's swearing-in ceremony was valid and lawful and that they are therefore the legal government if those people don't do their jobs, let parliament meet, and allow them to be sworn in properly ASAP. There seems to be nowhere for the HRPP to hide anymore: they either obey the court, or become criminals. The worry is that, even with that threat, its unclear which option they will choose.