Samoa's top court rules that first female prime minister's inauguration was legal

CANBERRA, July 23 (Reuters) - Samoa's Court of Appeal ruled on Friday a makeshift swearing in ceremony for the country's next government was legal, officially installing Samoa's first female prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa.

The islands' politics descended into chaos earlier this year after the incumbent Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa's China-friendly prime minister, refused to give way after losing a parliamentary election in April that would have ended his 22 years in power. read more

Fiame, a former deputy prime minister, then held her own swearing-in ceremony, but Samoa's highest court ruled this to have been illegal - a decision overturned by the appeals court on Friday.

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"The practical consequence of the declaration is that the FAST party, having been constitutionally sworn in on May 24, are entitled to take office," the judgement read.

It is not clear whether Tuilaepa will honour the ruling, setting the scene for further political instability.

Tuilaepa's Human Rights Protection Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated Fiame and urged an end to the political instablity.

"It is important that all parties in Samoa respect the rule of law and the democratic process and comply with the directions of the court," Morrison said in an emailed statement.

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Reporting by Colin Packham Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Raissa Kasolowsky

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