Samoa’s first woman prime minister took office Tuesday, three months after she won an election that triggered a constitutional crisis.
Fiame Naomi Matafa smiled as she sat down in the chair that her predecessor was reluctant to give up after 22 years of power. With members of her FAST Party in red, she held her first Cabinet meeting.
Fiame (64), said that they were ready for their work.
This could mean a reset in the relationship between China and the island nation. Fiame, who was on the campaign trail, had promised to stop a $100m port development supported by Beijing. Fiame called the project excessive for a country already in deep debt to China.
Fiame’s predecessor Tuilaepa Silele Malielegaoi, despite numerous court rulings against him, refused to concede defeat after a razor-edge election result in April.
Tuilaepa was supported by two powerful allies, the head of the nation and the speaker. They were able stop the transfer of power.
In May, Fiame and her party were expelled from the Parliament. Tuilaepa claimed that he was still in control. Both sides claimed that they were trying to organize a coup.
Fiame and members of her party took oaths, and were appointed ministers during a ceremony that was held under a tent right in front the Parliament.
Fiame stated that the day was filled with emotion in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
She said, “It could’ve gone pear-shaped but we were able keep calm.” “We could have stormed into the building and knocked out the doors like in Washington, D.C. We just sat down and sang a few hymns and a prayer.
The nation’s highest court ruled that the unusual swearing in ceremony on the day of the election was constitutional. Tuilaepa eventually conceded.
Fiame was previously Tuilaepa’s deputy.
In an interview, she stated that she quit because of concerns that Tuilaepa’s and other lawmakers had tried to interfere politically in the country’s judiciary and court system.
Fiame stated that it was a classic example of corruption and power. “We were moving away from the rule law, and that was something I didn’t like. However, most people were willing to accept it.”
She stated that Tuilaepa had never imagined he would lose the election, especially considering his large parliamentary majority. She said, “He was in shock” and “deep denial”.
Fiame’s victory in the election is a landmark not only for Samoa (which is conservative and Christian), but also for South Pacific, which has had very few female leaders.
Fiame stated that she did not consider her gender to be a major issue in the election and that her role as a chiefly was more important than her gender. She hoped she could be a role model for Pacific women working in other fields and show them what they can achieve.