Talks between HRPP and FAST reaches Impasse after just two sessions

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Negotiations between the leaders of two parties at the centre of Samoa’s political crisis, reached an impasse after just two rounds of talks.

Samoa’s Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Prime Minister Elect Fiamē Naomi Mataafa began negotiating talks last Friday, with a second meeting held yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

In separate public statements issued by Tuilaepa and Fiamē following the second round of talks, both leaders confirmed that an impasse has been reached in negotiations, over separate interpretations of the latest judgment set down by Samoa’s Court of Appeal.

Held at the Prime Minister’s offices at the government building, the leaders were joined at the talks by a few senior members of their respective parties.

Deputy leader of FAST Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt, former judge of the District Court Faualo Lefau Harry Schuster also and the FAST party Secretary joined their leader at the talks.

The HRPP line up included their deputy leader and lawyer Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, uncontested MP Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi and party whip Alaiasa Moefaauo Sepulona.

In a publicly aired programme by Radio 2AP, Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the purpose of the meeting was to try and agree on a way forward that would satisfy and uphold the most recent decision handed down by the Courts.

“O le agaga atoa, o le taumafai lea ia saili se auala e ono malilie ai itu e lua, ina ia faataunuu i le atoatoa le iuga matagofie ua faataoto mai e le mamalu o le Faamasinoga.” 

In its judgment of 2nd June 2021 the Court of Appeal delivered a much awaited decision on whether an additional seat was needed to satisfy Article 44(1A) of Samoa’s Constitution.

The Court of Appeal ruled at least six women are needed to satisfy the minimum 10% requirement set as a floor for women in Samoa’s Parliament, since 5 members out of 51 = 9.8, which falls short.

The Court of Appeal, however, also declared void the additional seat given by the Electoral Commissioner to HRPPs Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau under Article 44. The Court declared that the decision of whether an additional seat for women is needed to satisfy the minimum 10% requirement can only be made after the results of any by-elections that may arise from the 28 election petitions and counter petitions now before the Court.

Tuilaepa says their interpretation of the Court of Appeal decision is that Parliament cannot convene until all election petitions have been heard before the Supreme Court, and the results of any by-elections confirmed.

Tuilaepa argues that since the Constitution’s Article 44 requires six women, the Legislative Assembly cannot convene with the current five.

“Parliament cannot convene until all its members are present,” says Tuilaepa.

“O lea foi e manino i lalo o le faavae i le Vaega 44, e lē mafai ona tauaofia se fono aoao fai tulafono ina ua tuanai faiga palota lautele sei vaganā ua atoa sui.”

In a press statement Fiamē agrees an impasse has been reached and says the Court of Appeal has already ruled on this matter and the appointment of the 6th woman member being declared void further confirms FAST holds the majority of 26 seats to HRPP’s 25 following the 9th April general elections.

The FAST leader says their elected members were sworn in on the 24th of May 2021, with a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, as well as an appointed Cabinet now ready to govern the country.

Fiame believes the Court decision is not retrospective and can only be for future elections as the writ of appointment of the elected members was given under the hand of the Head of State dated 16 April 2021.

In his public statement, Tuilaepa agreed an impasse has been reached.

“So that is where we differ and so at the end of our discussions, we could not come to an agreement,” he said.

“O ‘ī lea e iai se feeseeseaiga lea ma o le taunuuga o le matou talanoaga, ua leai se feau autasi.” 

Prime Minister Elect and FAST leader says her caucus will meet to discuss the outcome of yesterday’s talks and will inform the public on any new developments.

Fiamē called for the support and prayers of churches and the nation, “as the political leaders look to amicably resolve the current impasse so to serve the best interests of the Samoan people, our democracy and the rule of law”.

It has been nine long weeks since Samoa’s 9th April general election and still no solution is in sight for the nation’s people, now in a situation where public notices are being dessiminated from two Prime Ministers and governments.

As required by Samoa’s Electoral Act, the Supreme Court has set aside other matters to prioritise election petitions that began this week.

Supreme Court resources are stretched with two justices presiding over each case. With 28 peitions filed, the work of the Supreme Court could take several weeks, although it is noted that one case was withdrawn yesterday morning.