Former Samoa PM concedes election defeat, ends political instability

CANBERRA (Reuters) -The former prime minister of Samoa on Monday ended months of political instability by conceding defeat in an election held in April that ended his 22 years in power.

Samoa descended into chaos earlier this year after then Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi refused to give way after losing a parliamentary election to former deputy prime minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa.

Samoa’s Court of Appeal ruled last week that a makeshift swearing in ceremony was legal, officially installing Mataafa as the country’s first female prime minister and her Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party in power.

“FAST here is the government,” Tuilaepa said in a speech pasted on Facebook.

The concession followed regional pressure to honour the court ruling, including from Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison amid concerns about ongoing tension.

“It’s definitely a relief to see this saga finally reach a peaceful conclusion,” said Jonathan Pryke, Director, Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

“It is also the start of a new era of Samoan politics where the new ruling government faces a robust opposition within the parliamentary chamber for the first time in decades.”

Mataafa said on Saturday her government would formally take office on Tuesday.

Samoa, which relies on subsistence farming along with tourism and fish and coconut product exports, has had to depend on foreign aid and is heavily indebted to China, which offered to back a port development by the previous government.

Fiame told Reuters in May she would shelve the Beijing-backed port development, calling the $100 million project excessive for a small country already deep in debt.

Reporting by Colin Packham

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