Thursday, July 01, 2021

Can the courts save Samoa?

On Monday, Samoa's Supreme Court attempted to end the country's ongoing constitutional crisis, ordering parliament to sit within seven days so a government could be elected. The order was backed by an explicit threats that obstruction would be treated as contempt of court and result in the court recognising the FAST Party's outdoor swearing-in ceremony as legal, effectively making them the government. Last night, "caretaker" Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi gave his response: fuck the court:

The caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, says he will defy court order to convene Parliament, despite the judiciary warning anyone who stood in the way of its ruling could face criminal penalties.

The announcement, made by Tuilaepa on Wednesday evening, also suggests that the nation's long power crisis is far from over as he continued to reject out of hand a decision from the court that the Parliament must convene so that the nation can proceed with the business of Govenment.

A defiant Tuilaepa warned the judiciary was overreaching its powers and seeking to limit his own, saying that one arm of Government should not "like Hitler" seek to assert its authority over another.

Tuilaepa has instead insisted that Parliament can only be "properly constituted" after petitions, by-elections, and the invoking (if necessary) of a requirement that a minimum of six women M.P.s be present in Parliament.

[The Court of Appeal has explicitly ruled that the latter is false, and noted in its most recent ruling that an insistence that all members be present "would allow a minority to prevent meetings of the Assembly". But then, from the HRPP's perspective, that's the whole point, because the moment the Assembly meets, they get voted out and their power and salaries and perks end].

So what happens next? It seems that unless Tuilaepa changes his mind, or the head of state and clerk of parliament simply ignore him and obey the court's order (they are after all the people whose presence is required), there will be an explicit confrontation. The police have so far signalled their obedience to the courts and the rule of law, but its unclear whether that will actually extend to physically dragging Tuilaepa and his recalcitrant ministers from their offices and to jail for contempt. But the HRPP seems to be doing everything possible to back themselves into a corner and force that outcome.