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Samoa Is In The Throes Of A Constitutional Crisis


The Pacific island nation of Samoa is in the middle of a constitutional crisis. They held a general election in April but have yet to form a new government. Ashley Westerman reports the government in power is refusing to leave.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Monday was supposed to be a historic day for Samoa, the first transfer of power to a different ruling party in some 40 years and the swearing-in of its first female prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa.

DAMON SALESA: But that's not what happened.

WESTERMAN: That's Damon Salesa, associate professor of Pacific studies at the University of Auckland.

SALESA: We saw the incumbent prime minister insist that he was still the rightful prime minister. We saw the doors of Parliament locked to the opposition party. And then we ended the day with two people claiming to be prime minister of Samoa.

WESTERMAN: When the party that was supposed to be forming a government, known as FAST, had an outdoor swearing-in anyway, the incumbent prime minister accused them of staging a coup. He doubled down on Tuesday. Salesa says there's no obvious way out of this unprecedented situation.

SALESA: We're going to have to rely on a more ad hoc way to produce a settlement, and probably, that's going to require either a concession or through some sort of social traditional settlement.

WESTERMAN: The events leading up to this constitutional crisis were many, including multiple legal challenges to the razor-thin election results and a call by the incumbent party for a do-over of the election on a technicality. This leaves people who actually supported the FAST party and their leader deflated. Siautu Alefaio, a Samoan living in New Zealand, says she's disappointed.

SIAUTU ALEFAIO: It should be all-out celebration and joy, but I still feel very nervous.

WESTERMAN: She is one of many who were hoping Samoa was on the cusp of ushering in a new era of governance with a party that prioritizes women and has taken up progressive stances such as implementing term limits. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Manila.


Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.