Samoa's head of state defies courts in election crisis

Mr Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi said the courts had no right to demand that Parliament should meet by July 5. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOVERNMENT OF SAMOA/FACEBOOK

APIA (AFP) - Samoa's head of state defied a court order Monday (July 5) to convene Parliament and break the Pacific nation's lengthy election deadlock, accusing the judiciary of attempting to "usurp" his powers.

Mr Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi said the courts had no right to demand that Parliament should meet by July 5 and threaten anyone opposing the order with contempt.

Mr Sualauvi said only he had the power to decide when Parliament would sit in the wake of a disputed April 9 general election in which both the incumbent prime minister and opposition leader claim victory.

"(The courts) have shown flagrant disregard, and disrespect, of the powers of the position of the head of state," he said in a statement issued Monday.

"I read it as a direct threat to the legal authority, powers and integrity of both the office of the head of state, and that of the parliament of the independent state of Samoa."

"I pray that such usurping of the said powers of the head of state shall not happen again," he added.

Rather than abide by the July 5 deadline set by the courts, Mr Sualauvi ordered Parliament to convene on Aug 2.

Even then, he said lawmakers were unlikely to form a government because several issues arising from the April vote remained unresolved, including disputed seats and a row over how many women should be in parliament.

Mr Sualauvi - who was appointed by incumbent Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi - said if the issues were not settled by Aug 2, "I will consider other options available to me".

He did not specify what the options were, but one possibility is calling a fresh election, which would bolster Mr Malielegaoi's efforts to remain in power.

Mr Malielegaoi, who has held office for more than 22 years virtually unchallenged, was blindsided by new opposition leader Fiame Naomi Mata'afa's popularity in the April election.

He has attempted to overturn key elements of the vote but has been rebuffed by the courts.

Ms Mata'afa, who is bidding to become Samoa's first female leader, claims to have a 26 to 21 majority over Mr Malielegaoi.

Regional powers Australia and New Zealand, both major aid donors to Samoa, have called for Parliament to sit with a view to forming government.

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