Will the attempted coup in Samoa fail?

I blogged last week on the twists and turns of the Samoan election. At that stage the Supreme Court had ruled there was no additional MP, and the FAST Party had 26 out of 51 seats and looked to be able to form a Government. Parliament was required by the Constitution of Samoa to meet within 45 days of the election, which is today.

After summoning Parliament to meet on Monday, the Head of State suddenly announced he was cancelling his own summoning. Furthermore he wouldn’t give reasons why at this stage, and wouldn’t say for how long.

It is clear the Head of State has gone from being a neutral figure to trying to throw the election to the incumbent Prime Minister. His actions are clearly illegal and basically what we are seeing is an attempt at a non-violent coup.

The Supreme Court has ruled that his actions were (again) illegal and that Parliament should meet on Monday and elect a Government.

The Head of State has left Apia and returned to his home village. It is unclear what else may occur. The worst case is he declares a state of emergency or worse. Luckily Samoa has a very small military so a Fiji type situation is unlikely.

What is disappointing is the Head of State is a former New Zealand police officer. He should know better and be upholding the law, not acting as a proxy for a caretaker PM.

There may be a role for New Zealand to play in this. If the HRPP Party won’t accept they lost the election and tries to continue to govern, then the New Zealand Government should warn that they would be risking all financial aid, and more. We can’t let Samoa go down the path Fiji did.

Thankfully Samoa has a written constitution and a Supreme Court that isn’t partisan. What has happened there shows how power corrupts. HRPP has governed for 40 years and the PM for 22. There is no tradition of peaceful transfer of power. It is a good case for term limits, so people can’t see themselves as in a job for life.

UPDATE: The Speaker has refused to summon Parliament saying he only obeys the Head of State, not the Supreme Court. So the Speaker has effectively also joined the coup.

This makes things even messier. Parliament could meet without the outgoing Speaker and elect a new Speaker and PM. But the HRPP will boycott the session and claim it is illegitimate. You would have two competing Prime Ministers and which one will the Police and Public Service obey?

The Supreme Court could hold people in contempt for ignoring their rulings. But arresting the Head of State or outgoing PM or Speaker could be incendiary – especially if they are in their local village.

It is a shame to see such a great country being torn apart by the refusal of one man to accept he lost an election.

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