Mata’afa becomes Samoa’s first female prime minister.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa became Samoa’s first female prime minister on Tuesday, breaking a 109-day deadlock that had left the Pacific island without an operational government.
Outgoing leader Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi ultimately conceded defeat on Monday, letting Mata’afa and her nascent administration to settle into their legislative offices after multiple failed legal challenges.
“I am happy and grateful,” Mata’afa said, adding that an interim budget is her top goal right now in order to keep the government working and give her cabinet time to assess Samoa’s financial and economic situation.
However, she told Radio New Zealand that the planning had not gone smoothly.
“In terms of preparing briefs for a new government, we had approached important ministries… She stated, “They weren’t really receptive.”
“I would assume that now that the problem of our government’s legitimacy has been resolved, they will join us.”
The future relationship between Samoa and China will be a critical issue, with Mata’afa opposing a Beijing-backed large port project approved by her predecessor.
Malielegaoi, 76, who had reigned largely unchallenged for nearly two decades with his Human Rights Protection Party, which had been in power for nearly 40 years, was outraged by his defeat in the April 9 poll.
Mata’afa had to be sworn in as the new leader under a tent when he sealed the doors of parliament in May, amid unusual circumstances.
The constitutional issue was resolved four days ago when Samoa’s top judicial authority, the Appeal Court, declared that Malielegaoi’s acts were illegal.
Mata’afa feared the three-month standoff had harmed Samoa’s democratic image.
“A demonstration of the administration moving away from the rule of law is some of the illegal activities performed by the previous government, which the courts have said were unlawful,” she said.
“So I believe the overarching perspective that we must restore the foundation of the rule of law for the government is critical.”
Her FAST Party was founded only a year ago.
Only Mata’afa, a former cabinet minister and deputy prime minister under Malielegaoi, and La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, a former agricultural minister, have served in the cabinet before.