Samoa set to appoint first female prime minister

Ms Fiame Naomi Mataafa is a former deputy prime minister who split with the Samoan government last year. PHOTO: FAST/AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Ms Fiame Naomi Mataafa is poised to become Samoa's first female prime minister, after the Pacific nation's top court on Monday (May 17) helped break a month-long political impasse that followed a tightly contested April election.

Samoa's Supreme Court on Monday afternoon overruled an attempt by the head of state Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II to void the election results, local media reported.

Earlier in the day, the court rejected the post-election creation of an additional parliamentary seat by the electoral commission that briefly gave the incumbent government a majority.

The court decisions clear the path for Ms Fiame's FAST party to form a government, ending the rule of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has fought to hold on to power after governing for more than two decades, making him one of the longest-serving leaders in the world.

It was not immediately clear if there are legislative or legal avenues open to Mr Tuilaepa to challenge Ms Fiame, who now has a slim majority of support in the 51-member parliament.

Mr Tuilaepa's government did not immediately respond to questions on Monday.

Dressed in red, Ms Fiame's supporters celebrated the legal decisions by singing outside the court in the capital Apia on Monday, video footage showed.

Ms Fiame is a former deputy prime minister who split with the government last year after opposing changes to Samoa's constitution and judicial system.

Mr Tuilaepa has also faced criticism in recent years over his handling of a measles crisis in 2019 which killed 83, mainly young people, and the government's close relationship with China.

Samoa has a strong history of migration. Around one-sixth of the island nation's 200,000 residents are of mixed Samoan and Chinese descent, according to census data.

The Pacific nation shut its borders early in the coronavirus pandemic and has any avoided widespread community transmission of Covid-19 infections.

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