Political drama in Samoa will impact game play in the Pacific

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Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, June 6, 2021


HRPP Leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (left) and FAST Party Leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. (RNZ Pacific Photo by Tipi Autagavaia)

Following the controversial Parliamentary Elections in Samoa,  Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has emerged as the new Leader, facing formidable challenges.

His election will inspire more women leaders in the Pacific region, which has the lowest level of female representation in the world. 

Samoa elections were held based on the 1960 Constitution which envisages Parliamentary Democracy. The Samoan Parliament is called ‘Fono,’ consisting of 49 members serving five-year terms. Out the these, 47 are elected from ethnic Samoans living in territorial districts and the other two chosen by non-Samoans on separate electoral rolls.

As in many other Parliamentary Democracies, the Prime Minister is chosen by majority members of the Fono and appointed by Head of State of Samoa.

Tense political situation

Samoan politics has become challenging as former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, refusing to  step aside, went as far as his Party locking Parliament’s doors, leaving Fiame and other newly elected members to be sworn in on the lawn. This was done by taking a leaf out of former United States President Donald Trump’s politics.

However, Fiame went ahead with the oath-taking ceremony inside a tent on Parliament grounds proving her worth as a Leader.

Samoan Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese outside Parliament (RNZ Pacific)

Scarp with China

One of the important decisions of Fiame was to recalibrate Samoa’s relationship with Beijing. Her stated intention was to scrap a $128 million Chinese-backed port project, indicating that she wished to distance Samoa from Beijing. However, she recently told Nikkei Asia that her government would not dramatically change the relationship.

The outcome of Samoan politics will have profound impact in the wider Polynesian region.

The Polynesian Spearhead Group was formed in September 2011 when former Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi initiated a meeting with the Leaders of Tonga, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, and Niue on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit in Auckland.

The situation in Samoa is watched closely with interest from both Wellington and Canberra. Some were disappointed with New Zealand’s careful wording.

New Zealand-Australia response

The outcome of the Samoa elections is watched closely both in Canberra and Wellington as Apia is expected to play a leading role in the complex Pacific Island geopolitics including in the regional multi-lateral forums such as Pacific Islands Forum and Polynesian Spearhead Group.

It was expected that leaders from the Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia, should condemn the “lawless conduct of the former Prime Minister and the Head of State” while recognising new government in Samoa.

Fiame stepped down from the post of Deputy Prime Minister in September last year  claiming that the country was “sliding away from the rule of law” and, has since been an Independent Parliamentarian, citing “rigged” electoral rules.

Apia, the Capital of Samoa (RNZ Pacific Photo by Jenny Meyer)

Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi became Prime Minister in 1998 when his predecessor Tofilau Eti Alesana resigned on health grounds after 16 years in the job. He won a second term in 2001.

The Human Rights Protection Party has been in power for an uninterrupted 28 years.

Malielegaoi was one of  longest-serving leaders in the world and has held power for more than two decades. His understanding of Pacific Islands politics is phenomenal.

Samoa was known as Western Samoa until 1997. Western Samoa was governed by New Zealand until its people voted for independence in 1961. Samoa was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1976.

Fiji will also be watching the happenings in Samoa closely as it will have elections next year. As there is a change of guard in Samoa, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama will take further steps to  improve his stocks in the Pacific Islands politics thereby enabling his role as a senior statesman in the upcoming years.

Samoan elections will serve as a curtain raiser not only to the Samoan politics but also in the wider geopolitics of the Pacific Islands.   

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi. The above story has been sponsored by

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