Negotiations underway between Samoa political leaders HRPP, FAST

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Samoa’s outgoing prime minister and prime minister-elect met on Thursday afternoon as part of secretly-held negotiations about the transition to a new national government.

However, neither leader would be drawn on the substantive details of their discussions.

“This is only the beginning,” said the leader of the Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, after meeting with her counterpart, the leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

“It is important for Parliament to convene given the Appeals Court decision has been delivered and there is a sixth seat instead of five, but again I cannot give you details because we are just beginning the negotiations,” she said.

The meeting came to pass after the Court of Appeal overturned a decision from the Supreme Court which concluded that six, not five, women MPs must sit in Parliament to satisfy a constitutional provision.

But the inclusion of another woman Member of Parliament (MP) in the Legislative Assembly could be months away, and will only follow the results of dozens of legal challenges to the results of last month’s election.

The Appellate Court decision voided the election of HRPP- aligned MP Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, who had been appointed last month and had been part of the legal challenge.

The ruling had the effect of reinstating the results of last month’s election until the finalisation of the court process, giving FAST a slender 26 to 25 majority, enough to form a Government on the floor of Parliament.

But the question of whether the FAST party’s ad-hoc swearing-in ceremony last month – held out of what it said was a constitutional necessity – will be found legally binding is a matter to be tackled by the courts next week.

A total of 28 petitions and counter petitions have been filed to the courts, six directly involving women candidates. The effect of the petitions which, if upheld, will result in by-elections, could remove the need to add an additional woman MP to Parliament, or require that more than one be added, depending on legal outcomes.

During his radio programme on state-owned 2AP, Tuilaepa acknowledged the meeting with Mata’afa and that discussions were underway.

“There are always sensitive aspects to these types of meeting, and we are aiming for an amicable solution in a peaceful manner to resolve the current political status,” the HRPP leader said.

“The meeting was productive and [Fiame] expressed her views of the court’s decision and we did the same; but when [party leaders] meet, this is only the beginning as there should be up to five meetings.

“I also have to take these matters to our party members, and FAST will do the same.”

Another meeting will be next week Monday.

On Wednesday afternoon, hours after the handing down of the court judgement, Tuilaepa adamantly claimed his party would now be legally left as the “custodians” of Government and in a dead heat for leadership of the nation. He also asserted the HRPP was certain to control 26 seats in Parliament and that its MP, Ali’imalemanu, would be duly given passage to Parliament.

On Thursday, Tuilaepa acknowledged the two aspects to the judgement on the question of the number of women needed to sit in Parliament and that the extra seat ordered by the court can only be occupied after election petitions are resolved.

“So this means, in our view that we cannot make a decision before the activation of the sixth seat. And there are ways we can make this work to fulfil our duties as stipulated under the constitution,” Tuilaepa said.

He added that there was one goal – to resolve the current political status of the Government.

“We have expressed our views for their review, and [FAST] have expressed their observations for a solution immediately now that the court has rendered its decision,” said Tuilaepa.

After the court’s Wednesday decision Prime Minister-elect Fiame told the Samoa Observer FAST are now focused on taking over the reins of power.

“The court’s decision reconfirms the FAST party remains as the leading party with 26 seats and HRPP with 25 seats,” Mata’afa said.

“Last week Parliament convened and members of the FAST were sworn in [under a tent] and not only the leaders were appointed but the Cabinet was also appointed.

“And now the Appeals Court decision has been rendered, it is due time the transitioning of Government should occur and that we will take over the operation of Government while the caretaker Government will move out.”

On Thursday, Mata’afa told the Samoa Observer, the “negotiations” started and it is premature to comment in that light.

Asked whether there is a set date for the new Government to move in, Mata’afa said there was not and she confirmed that the issue of when Parliament would next convene would also be subject to negotiation.

The FAST camp is dismissive of claims that Parliament cannot convene until electoral petitions are heard and a sixth woman MP is appointed; a claim made by Tuilaepa and others linked to HRPP.

In 2011 the Parliament continued to sit while numerous election petitions were heard, which ultimately resulted in four by-elections that changed the composition of Parliament.

SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS