- Samoa’s veteran leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is determined to cling to power, convinced that only divine intervention can end his 22-year rule.
- Fiame Naomi Mata’afa won a shock majority in a general election, leading to her becoming Samoa’s first woman prime minister after Malielegaoi steps down.
- “I am appointed by God,” he said after protests. “If they want me to stand down, they should go to a church and pray instead of protesting in front of the courthouse.
“Defying election results and court rulings, Samoa’s veteran leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is determined to cling to power, convinced only divine intervention can end his 22-year rule of the Pacific island nation.
Malielegaoi is not accustomed to losing — until recently the 76-year-old’s authority was virtually absolute in a devoutly Christian nation of 220,000 where respect for one’s elders is deeply ingrained.
A trained economist, Malielegaoi has cast a long shadow over public life since he was elected to Samoa’s parliament in 1980.
As well as being prime minister, he appointed himself foreign minister and chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union — a high profile role in the rugby-mad nation.
But his grip on power is now being challenged by former ally Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who won a shock majority in a general election on April 9, opening the door to her becoming Samoa’s first woman prime minister.
Far from conceding and stepping down, Malielegaoi precipitated a constitutional crisis that has international observers warning Samoa’s young democracy could falter.
He first tried to tilt parliamentary numbers in his favour, saying the election did not return enough women to parliament and had violated gender quota rules.
He then tried to force through an election rerun.
When the courts rejected both moves, Malielegaoi then accused them of bias towards his rival.
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