The Contemporary Pacific: Polynesia in Review: Samoa

The Contemporary Pacific Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2008, pp. 244-249

Political Reviews

Polynesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 2006 to 30, June 2007 


Unasa L F Va'a

As expected, Sämoa's economy continued to thrive during the year. And again as expected, the main political developments of the latter half of 2006 concerned the aftermath of the 31 March general elections, the breakup of the Samoa Development United Party (SDUP), and the monopoly of political power by the governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP). In the first half of 2007, the major political development was the passing away, at age ninety-five, of one of the world's oldest heads of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, and the election of Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Efi to replace him.

Although election petitions followed the general elections, there were not as many as in some previous years. Besides the usual disputes between the political parties, this time some of the petitions concerned members of the same political party. In one case, the Supreme Court found SDUP member [End Page 244] Paepae Kapeli Su'a guilty of two counts of bribery during the election period and deprived him of his seat. The petitioner, Tautoloitua Farani Posala, was also found guilty of three counts of bribery and three of treating (favorable treatment). Both were ruled ineligible to contest the by-election. In another case, HRPP Member of Parliament Leanapapa Laki brought an election petition alleging bribery and treating against his successful opponent Pa'u Sefo, who countersued. The Supreme Court upheld four allegations of bribery and one of treating against Pa'u and his election was declared void. Ten allegations of bribery and one of treating were also proved against Leanapapa. The court stated that neither could stand as candidates in the by-election.

The case that attracted the most interest, however, was brought by Samoa Party Leader Su'a Rimoni Ah Chong against Minister of Communications and Technology Mulitalo Vui Siafausa, alleging bribery and treating. On 3 August 2006, the Supreme Court dismissed all charges relating to bribery or treating against the minister on the grounds of insufficient evidence. This left one charge against him, involving an o'o or gift presentation (fine mats, food, or money, separately or together) he had made at Vaimoso, an urban village in Apia . The question for the court to decide was whether such an o'o was legal.

Su'a's petition stated that the o'o at Vaimoso was illegal because it occurred in a village that is not in the minister's constituency, while Mulitalo's lawyer, Toleafoa Solomona, argued it was an o'o regardless of where it was made. To support his case, the respondent acquired the services of a cultural specialist, Fuimaono Fereti Tupua, who argued that it was acceptable for an o'o to be made outside the boundaries of an electoral constituency because all electors were entitled to their share of the gifts. In other words, Fuimaono stated, an o'o should follow electors wherever they were (SO, 5 Aug 2006). Mulitalo had already presented an o'o to Lano, Asaga, and Pu'apu'a, the three villages in the constituency.

The legal opinion from lawyer Daryle Clarke of the Attorney General's Office did not help the minister's case. Representing Electoral Commissioner Tanuvasa Isitolo, Clarke argued that if such an activity occurred outside the physical boundary of a constituency, it could not be regarded as an o'o. The implication was that if it was not an o'o and legitimized by custom, then it was bribery and therefore illegal. After nine days of hearings, the Supreme Court ruled that the o'o at Vaimoso was illegal and found Mulitalo guilty of bribery. In a thirty-five-page decision, the court said it was not satisfied that there had been a change in custom to allow an o'o to be made outside a constituency. Mulitalo's election was therefore declared void.

In a counter-petition, Mulitalo filed criminal charges against Su'a for treating and bribery. Three charges of bribery were brought against Su'a, one of which was later withdrawn. Su'a was accused of giving Faalafi Tauave SAT$50 to induce him, his wife, and their children to vote for him in the general elections (currently, one Samoan tala [SAT$)] = US$.36). He was also charged with giving a brand [End Page 245] new television set to the family of Muliaga Faalafi to solicit his support and that of his family (SO, 28 Sept 2006). Su'a denied both charges, saying his gift of money was motivated only by custom and appreciation for the generous hospitality shown to him by the family. The television set was a gift to a relative and his acts were the result of kindness and charity (SO, 20 Sept 2006). On 26 September 2006, the court found that the bribery charge relating to the SAT$50 gift to Faalafi Tauave was not proven, but upheld the charge relating to the television set.

Chief Justice Patu wondered why Su'a presented the television to Muliaga Faalafi's mother, Malama, two days before the election, when he did not give out his usual Christmas gifts to the other poor, elderly, and sick residents of Lano. He noted that the family had not asked for a television set, but had only asked that Su'a take the old one for repairs in Apia . Su'a need only have told Malama that the television set could not be fixed, or give her a new set after the elections. The important factors to be considered, the chief justice said, were the imminence of the election, and the value of the television set and aerial, more than SAT$300—a big gift to a poor family. Patu concluded that "the dominant motive behind the giving of the TV set to Malama was not charity but to induce her to support and vote for the defendant at the election" (SO, 29 Sept 2006). Su'a was "shattered" by the decision, which incurred a SAT$300 fine. It was clear, he said, that the law did not distinguish between relatives and electors. He vowed to return the Transparency International Integrity Award that he had won in May 2003.

Both Mulitalo and Su'a come from Lano village, and they were the only two candidates in the general elections. Their rivalry split the village into two factions. When Su'a lodged his petition against Mulitalo, he was banned from the village by the opposition. Mulitalo denied having anything to do with the ban. And when Mulitalo lost, Su'a's family home at Lano was burned by a person who was later caught and charged by police. In retaliation, Su'a complained to the Supreme Court, which ordered the Lano village council to revoke the ostracism order against Su'a or risk going to jail. In making the order, Justice Pierre Slicer said the village council's power was not greater than that of the Legislative Assembly, the constitution, the electoral act, the head of state, or the Supreme Court. The banishment was illegal because it violated the right of citizens to a free election (SO, 8 Aug 2006). However, after further consultations between Chief Justice Patu and the two Australian judges of the court, the order was amended to enable the village council to file a petition with the Land and Titles Court to settle the dispute within seven days, failing which prosecutions would follow. Eventually, the village canceled its banishment order.

Several by-elections took place following the election petitions and the death of two sitting members of Parliament. In the by-election for Faasaleleaga No. 2 in September, Pa'u's daughter and HRPP candidate Letoa Rita edged out another HRPP candidate, Papalii Samuelu Petaia. At age thirty, Letoa Rita was the youngest [End Page 246] of the candidates and the fifth woman to be elected to the current Legislative Assembly. But the political struggle in this constituency did not end there, because Papalii lodged another election petition against Letoa Rita, alleging eleven counts of corrupt practices. The latter reciprocated by filing a counter petition, alleging nine instances of corrupt practices. After a five-day hearing, the Supreme Court upheld five allegations of bribery and three of treating against Letoa, but found that the allegations against Papalii had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. The election was declared void and Letoa Rita was ordered to pay costs of SAT$5,000 to Papalii. In his third attempt, Papalii Samuelu Petaia was finally in luck. He topped the poll with 384 votes, some 62 votes more than his nearest rival, Papalii Masipa'u. The incumbents for Sagaga le Falefa and Faleata West retained their seats after the election petitions, and HRPP candidates Vui Tupe Ioane and Muagututia Siaosi Meredith gained a further two seats in by-elections held 6 October 2006.

Two members of Parliament passed away: Sililoto Tolo Tuaifai, age sixty-seven, member for Vaimauga West, and Manuleleua L Leleua, age eighty-two, member for Faleata East. The Vaimauga West by-election was won by Patu Ativalu Togi II, a former SDUP member of Parliament, but running under the HRPP ticket. The Faleata East by-election was won by former Member of Parliament Patauave Etuale, who was solidly backed by Vaimoso village, while the only other candidate, Aveau Niko Palamo, had strong backing at Lepea and Vailoa villages.

As of June 2007, then, the composition of the political parties had hardly changed since the time of the general elections on 31 March 2006, when the Human Rights Protection Party commanded 35 seats, the others being split between the Samoa Development United Party and Independents. After the election petitions and by-elections, the Human Rights Protection Party controlled 36 seats (an increase of one), the Samoa Development United Party 7 seats, and Independents 6 seats.

Soon after the general elections the stresses that had affected the Samoa Development United Party as a result of its poor performance in the elections were made manifest, dealing a blow to party politics in Sämoa. In August 2006, five of the nine members of the party staged a coup d'état by ousting party leader Lemamea Ropati and substituting lawyer Asiata Vaai with Mulipola Oliva as deputy leader. The "rebels" claimed that under the constitution, the majority had the right to decide the party leader. However, changes in the command structure are normally carried out in a formal caucus meeting, and the only person who had the authority to call such a meeting was Lemamea. Accordingly, Lemamea and others—including veteran Aeau Peniamina, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly; Fuimaono Naoia Tei, member for Falealili; and Sililoto Tolio Tuaifaiva, member for Vaimauga West—refused to accept the rebels' "misguided" action.

The rebel members claimed the reason for their change of allegiance was Lemamea's poor leadership qualities. For instance, Asiata said, the party had no plans for the next five to ten [End Page 247] years, and if the party was to succeed in toppling the Human Rights Protection Party from power, it had to move forward under new leadership (SO, 31 Aug 2006). Lemamea in turn accused Asiata of wanting to be the party's leader since he joined the Samoa Development United Party. In a letter to the Samoa Observer, he accused Asiata of removing Tupua Tamasese Efi as leader and Leilua Manuao as deputy leader of the Samoa National Development Party (SNDP). Asiata was also responsible for changing the party's name from SNDP to SDUP. Having accomplished these goals, Lemamea said, Asiata continued to try and have Lemamea removed as leader. Despite attempts at reconciliation, the differences between the two factional leaders were too deep. Finally, Lemamea decided to step down as leader of the party. In tears he told supporters he could never work with Asiata again. However, he wished the new party leader well for the future (SO, 28 Sept 2006).

But this was not the end of the political drama. Under House regulations, a political party has to have a minimum of eight members to be recognized by the Speaker. At the end of the March general elections, the Samoa Development United Party had ten members, but lost one as a result of an election petition against Paepae Kapeli Su'a. As a result of the ensuing struggle for leadership, both Lemamea Ropati and Sililoto Tolo Tuaifaiva resigned from the party to become Independent members. This left only seven party members, one short of the required minimum. Asiata took the matter to the Supreme Court, but Chief Justice Patu ruled that the Speaker's actions were in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order 20 that covers such matters (SO, 22 March 2007).

These developments were not forced on the country by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party. In fact, when the leadership struggle within the Samoa Development United Party came out into the open, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi urged moderation. He said if the issue was not resolved, and if there was only one political party in Parliament, that was "not what democracy is about." He said it was important to have a good opposition leader, because such a person was a potential future prime minister of the country (SO, 16 Sept 2007). Given the rapid social, economic, and political development being successfully pushed by the HRPP government, it is difficult to envision the emergence of another dominant political party in the near future.

The passing away of His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II Sämoa's head of state since 1962, on 10 May 2007, marked the end of an era. Malietoa represented an era of decolonization, when the New Zealand colonial administration attempted to make peace with Samoan political dissidents (the Mau) and prepare Sämoa for independence. In 1945 New Zealand began to send Samoan students on scholarship to New Zealand to train them to take over public service positions from expatriates. In 1949, Malietoa was appointed to the highest position possible for an indigenous person in Sämoa, that of Fautua, or chief adviser to the administrator, [End Page 248] together with Tupua Tamasese Meaole. In that same year, he was made chairman of a committee to prepare Sämoa for independence, and when this finally came in 1962, he and Tamasese were appointed co-heads of state for life. Unfortunately Tamasese died in 1963, leaving Malietoa to serve as the sole head of state until the time of his death. His tenure was marked by an attitude of tolerance and moderation in all things. He had a great impact on the judicial system by refusing to allow capital punishment, always commuting death sentences to life imprisonment. Several years ago, the Samoan Parliament abolished capital punishment, thanks indirectly to the influence of Malietoa.

Within weeks of Malietoa's death, all the political parties unanimously supported the election of former Prime Minister Tupuola Efi as the new head of state for a term of five years, in accordance with the constitution. Tupuola Efi was prime minister from 1976 to 1979, and from 1979 to 1981, and, over the years, acquired two higher matai titles as well: Tui Atua and Tupua. He is also a noted scholar of Samoan language, folklore, and culture. His academic achievements have been recognized by Te Matahauariki Institute at Waikato University , which made him an associate member; by Te Whare Wänanga o Awanuiärangi, the tribal university where he is an adjunct professor; and by the National University of Samoa, where he is a frequent speaker. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Efi is very much a product of the postcolonial era, characterized by the people's desire for education, upward mobility, identity, and a place in the world. He is eminently suited to help the Samoan people achieve their goals and aspirations.


CSS, Centre for Samoan Studies. 2006. Samoa National Human Development Report. Papaigalagala, Apia : CSS, National University of Samoa .

Islands Business. Monthly. Suva.> 

Savali. Weekly. Prime Minister's Department, Apia .

SO, The Samoa Observer. Daily. Apia .

Unasa L F Va'a (MA and PhD anthropology, the Australian National University ) is currently associate professor of Samoan studies at the National University of Samoa. His doctoral research on Samoan migrants in Australia has been published by the Institute of Pacific Studies , University of the South Pacific, under the title Saili Matagi: Samoan Migrants in Australia (2001). His main research interests involve international migration and language and cultural studies of Samoa and Polynesia .

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