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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (February 27, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---Samoa, one of the world's more curious democracies, will go to the polls Friday 20 months after a cabinet minister was assassinated on the orders of two other ministers.

Calling itself "the cradle of Polynesia," Samoa from independence in 1962 to 1990 allowed only matai or family chiefs the vote. Today only matai can stand for parliament but everybody over 21 votes.

Since 1982, Samoa has been ruled by the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), the largely personal device of the late Tofilau Eti who, along with then Finance Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, who was his spokesman, led what turned into a corrupt government. When Tofilau died in 1998, Tuilaepa took over.

This will be his first election as leader, facing the small Samoa National Development Party (SNDP) led by the royal chief Tupua Tamasese Efi -- who, as Tupuola Efi, was the prime minister defeated by the HRPP in 1982.

On July 18, 1998, HRPP was holding a ball in honor of its 20th anniversary when Works Minister Luagalau Levaula Kamu stepped off the stage to take a phone call. On the other side of a brick lattice Eletise Vitale aimed a rifle at him and fired, mortally wounding his target. Vitale was the son of Women's Affairs Minister Leafa Vitale who, with former Works Minister Toi Aukuso, had conspired to carry out the killing and had also wanted to kill the prime minister, the chief justice and another minister. All three were later sentenced to death but the sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment.

SNDP has since claimed the assassination was part of an HRPP power struggle, but earlier this year the widow of the assassinated minister, Maiava Visekota, who is also an HRPP politician, said it was wrong to blame HRPP for what happened.

The philosophies of HRPP and SNDP are both vague as politics in Samoa are intensely personal and aiga, or family.

On Friday around 75,000 people in first past the post ballots will vote in 49 constituencies along aiga and village lines with national issues barely getting a look in.

At the last elections five years ago HRPP on voting day commanded 34 of the seats but loyalties can be fluid.

Immediately following the ballot the winning candidates are swept into party compounds and fed and watered for weeks, often now allowed visitors, as the parties try to stop poaching.

The final shape of the government is not usually known until three weeks later when the Fono or assembly sits.

Political observers in Samoa are hedging their bets on an outcome, partly because many of the voters have never known an alternative government.

Perhaps the most telling incident has been the resignation from the HRPP of former diplomat Afamasaga Toleafoa. He quite saying his biggest regret had been to take part in the HRPP's sacking of chief auditor Sua Rimoni Ah Chong in 1994. He had exposed high-level corruption in Tofilau's government.

Speaking of the prime minister, he said he was rude.

"He's overbearing - behaves as if he is the only one that has something to say."

The once powerful Public Service Association, credited with bringing down Tupuola Efi's government in 1981, is backing nine HRPP candidates -- but also candidates opposed to the party, including a man opposing the prime minister in his constituency seat.

A cabinet minister, Misa Telefoni, initially declared that he had been returned to his seat unopposed, only to discover later he is facing stiff competition from one of Samoa's highest chiefs, Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II. And suddenly the constituency electoral roll has hundreds of extra people listed -- all quite legally as people can enroll wherever they feel they have a family connection.

Falealupo, at the western end of Samoa and thus the last place in the world to see the end of each day, is also in turmoil after a former speaker, Aeau Leavai Peniamina, announced he was running despite the local chiefs wanting another candidate returned unopposed.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: 



APIA, Samoa (February 28, 2001 – Radio Australia)---The opposition Samoa National Development Party (SNDP) says it has discovered evidence linking Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to a passports-for-sale scandal.

The allegation comes only days away from a general election on March 2.

The opposition's Leationgia Itau Ale said a Chinese woman's naturalization certificate has been uncovered allegedly signed by the prime minister himself.

The prime minister has denied the allegation, saying the document produced by the opposition is a forgery.

Leationgia said, "Well because he's been denying it all these years in publicly there's no scandal.

"We've been saying all along that there's a scandal here, this is corruption, and they denied it, not one word in their manifesto against corruption and now we've got proof.

"So this has become an issue for the SNDP in its platform, that if we are voted in we will look into this passport scandal very closely."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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