Sunday, December 5

“Women have not been able to fill these positions”: Samoa’s first female PM goes to work | Samoa

The prime minister’s office in Apia, the capital of Samoa, which overlooks the port, has just been vacated by the man who held the post for 22 years.

The shelves are still empty, but the room is filled with bouquets of flowers, sent by supporters eager to congratulate the new owner.

This week, after the most contentious elections in the history of the Pacific country and three months of political turmoil and legal battles, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the first woman to hold the country’s highest office, moved.

In her first in-person interview with foreign media, Fiame told The Guardian that there was “a lot of excitement” among women and girls after their victory in the April elections.

“They asked me, ‘How important was it? Did I see my date as something important to women and girls? ‘I said,’ Of course it is. In the sense, if you see someone in that position, it is something that can be done. So, you know, for a long time, women haven’t been able to fill these kinds of positions. So I am very happy that I was able to. I guess it’s a role model, it can be done. “

The milestone is particularly significant in the Pacific, which has the lowest rate of female representation in politics worldwide, with only 6% of all MPs being women regionally. Three countries in the world do not have women in parliament. All of them, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia, are in the Pacific.

Fiame is only the second woman to lead a Pacific island country, after Hilda Heine, former president of the Marshall Islands.

When asked which world leader she admires the most, Fiame pointed to another female leader. “I quite like the German lady: Merkel,” he said. “I think she is an excellent leader, she is very focused, she behaves, you know, she is an ordinary citizen, she does not like ceremonies and pomp.”

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa looks at the images of former prime ministers on the wall of her office, including that of her late father, the country's first prime minister.
Fiame Naomi Mata’afa looks at the images of former prime ministers on the wall of her office, including that of her late father, the country’s first prime minister. Photography: Rudy Bartley

A new stance on China

On Samoa’s relationship with China, he said there is “a window” to review Samoa’s program with China, noting that there are ongoing Chinese-funded projects that were not a key priority for his government.

China’s influence has grown in Samoa in the past 20 years, especially in infrastructure development on the two main islands. China has built and financed the national hospital, the main court building and schools on the four islands.

Senior members of the Fiame party opposed a proposed multi-million dollar dock project in Vaiusu Bay, funded by the Chinese government. She confirmed to The Guardian that this project “was not a priority” for her government and that it would be reviewed.

But Fiame said China’s problem in the Pacific must be viewed in the context of global politics.

“Having a relationship with China is not something new. China has been a good partner for us, “he said. “Samoa must focus on its own relationship with China. Of course, we know what is happening in the, in the global context, you know, what is the competition between the greatest powers and so on. I mean, you know, before America and Russia and the West against the East. Now, apparently it is the United States and China. “

The ‘perfect storm’ led to victory

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, 64, is a senior chief of special status (sa’o fa’apito) from Lotofaga on the island of Upolu. He entered politics in 1985 as a member of parliament.

While his office is still nearly empty, one of the walls is lined with portraits of former prime ministers, all of them men, including a photograph of his late father, Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, who served as the first prime minister. Prime Minister of Samoa. minister in 1959 and when Samoa became independent in 1962.

She was previously the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and last year defected from the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which had ruled Samoa for 39 years, to join the Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party, which was founded in June. 2020..

Although the elections took place in April, Fiame has just concluded his first week at the helm of a new government, after Samoa was rocked by political turmoil, legal challenges to the results and the maneuvers of the previous government in an attempt to discredit the outcome and cling to power.

A ruling by the country’s court of appeals last week declared FAST’s victory legitimate, as was the ad hoc swearing-in ceremony for her and her MPs they held in May when the Speaker of the House prevented them. the entrance to the parliament building. .

Fiama says there was a “perfect storm” of factors that led to the electoral upheaval, including concerns about legislation introduced by the previous government around land ownership and the dismantling of the judicial system.

Also, imagine that some people might have felt that the previous prime minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who at the time of the elections was the second oldest prime minister in the world with 22 years in office, had been in the post. power for long enough.

“Sometimes when something has been around for a long time, I know, in politics, sometimes it just changes for the sake of change,” he said.

Despite the fighting after the elections, Fiame says it did not lose confidence during the crisis.

“We got all 26 seats [majority]. So, having that basic premise gave me a lot of confidence that in the usual process of free elections we could achieve it ”.

Fiame was sworn in in an unofficial ceremony in front of the house of parliament in Apia after she was excluded from parliament and the previous leader claimed that he was still in charge.
Fiame was sworn in in an unofficial ceremony in front of the house of parliament in Apia after she was excluded from parliament and the previous leader claimed that he was still in charge. Photograph: Anetone Sagaga / AP

Fiame identified Covid-19 as the greatest threat to Samoa. So far, Samoa has had a case of Covid-19, which was contained.

“We are lucky to be Covid free, but I think it is a real threat to us. As we saw with measles [outbreak in 2019, which killed 83 children], our health infrastructure will not withstand that scale of a pandemic. So I think we would want to keep our borders closed, until maybe we have broader vaccine coverage. But I think we need to loosen some of the provisions of the emergency orders. “

Some of the state of emergency (SOE) rules implemented by the previous government and that she might consider easing include forced business closings on Sundays.

“You can always save Saturday, it’s something very personal. But at the same time, given the conditions that we are experiencing, we must allow people to have some freedom and flexibility. “

On his priorities going forward, he said that his goal is to empower and protect the people of Samoa through upholding the rule of law, strengthening livelihood options, improving health and strengthening the sector. of Education.

Fiame emphasized that their goal is to “fix” rather than “change.”

“We want to allow people to build their livelihoods, we want to see and make sure where they are and what the current situation is. I mean, we are a pretty sick country. That is why our health systems must be improved.

“If we’re talking about change, it’s about where you choose to invest, through the budget process, through the political decisions we make. In general, I guess, what we want to do is make a much bigger investment in people and communities. “

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