Samoa’s historic election result

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa and Tuilaepa Dr. Sai'lele Malielegaoi (Samoa Observer)

Nearly 60 years since independence, and 39 years after the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) took over the reins as government, a new dawn is on the horizon in Samoa.

For the uninitiated, voters in Samoa went to the polls on Friday last week. Preliminary results have the HRPP and the Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party locked at 25 members each. Independent MP Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio has emerged as the likely kingmaker to form a government in the 51-member parliament.

The election results have already guaranteed a robust opposition party, an essential element of democracy that has been missing for a decade. It has been ten long years since Samoa has had an official opposition party recognised in parliament. This has reduced Samoa’s democracy to a one-party state where the HRPP has had total dominance over the country’s affairs, allowing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his administration to do whatever they wanted, whenever and however.

But it is the possibility of the changing of the guard in government upon which all eyes are fixed.

We live in a country where many generations have known no other government other than the HRPP. The last change of government was nearly 40 years to this day.

The leadership of the late Tofilau Dr. Eti Alesana, incumbent Prime Minister Tuilaepa and the HRPP government must be commended for a number of wonderful achievements. As a nation, we have a come a long way socially and economically. Infrastructure-wise, the transformation has been impressive. From the days of dirt roads, no electricity, poor water supply, inadequate inter-island transportation, the one telephone at the Post Office where we used to stand in a queue to make an international call, to what we have today, we can only be grateful. And we are.

But having the same political party in power for close to 40 years comes at a cost. Experience the world over has shown where a party has enjoyed tremendous and unfettered power for such a period, the result is invariably blatant abuse, undemocratic practices, and suffering, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable. Samoa is no exception.

While Tuilaepa’s government would often espouse good governance, transparency and accountability, their behaviour was another matter. The daily Samoa Observer newspaper became the unofficial opposition voice, reporting on leaked government documents, reports and countless audits. Its reporters, including myself, can testify as to how the government refused to address questions surrounding its operations.

Questions about Samoa’s mounting foreign debt, aid, Polynesian Airlines (now Samoa Airways), the government’s cash cow called the Samoa International Finance Authority (SIFA), customary lands, issues of national identity and others have been bubbling beneath the surface for many years.

For a small country, there was never a dull moment. We’ve had countless scandals and tragedies ranging from a political assassination, to the sale of Samoan passports, and natural and man-made disasters, among others.

Meanwhile, the HRPP government was becoming extremely controlling, to the point where it had a hand in every area of life in Samoa. The government reached into people’s cars with the road switch. It changed the time so that Samoa now has daylight savings, even though no one understands why. It meddled with village laws, selected national rugby teams, interfered with family matters all the way down to the cans of mackerel people use for fa’alavelave (traditional obligations).

The Constitution was changed at will. From laws that impacted on freedom of religion and freedom of expression to the denigration and demolition of Samoa’s traditional structure, including the role of Tama a Aiga (Samoa’s traditional royalty), nothing was left untouched in the government’s mission, which appeared to have been that of rewriting Samoan history and creating a new legacy for itself.

The judiciary was not spared. Last year, the government rammed through major changes in the form of the Constitutional Amendment Act 2020, Land and Titles Act 2020 and the Judicature Act 2020. Together, they destroyed the separation of powers, changing the foundation upon which Samoa’s justice and judicial system rests. The laws have been described as the “most extensive and incoherent attack” on Samoa’s Constitution by the Samoa Law Society. They were strongly opposed locally and internationally, and while the HRPP government might have won the battle in terms of forcing them through parliament, it might have lost the war as a result.

Tuilaepa’s former deputy, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, now the FAST leader, resigned to oppose these bills. She and the Samoa Law Society were well-supported locally and internationally by some of the world’s most brilliant legal minds in their crusade against the laws.

Fiame became the third member of the HRPP to exit. Former Cabinet Minister and Speaker of Parliament, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt and Leatinuu Wayne Fong, were unceremoniously dumped by the HRPP for questioning the status quo. The three would go on to form a quartet with “lone ranger” Olo Levaopolo Vaai, who would become the face of the HRPP resistance, what has now become the FAST party juggernaut. If La’auli and Fiame are the faces of FAST, Olo is the heart. For 15 years as a Member of Parliament, he stuck by his convictions as an opposition MP, refusing the enticing and lucrative benefits a role with the HRPP could have provided.

But even with all their political clout, we doubt FAST could have done what they have achieved in the preliminary election results on their own. After years of throwing their considerable weight around and getting away with it, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration poked the wrong bear when they upset one of the strongest pillars in Samoan society, the dominant Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (CCCS).

The hauling of Ao o Fa’alupega (Reverends and Church Ministers) before the Court to be prosecuted over the HRPP’s demands that they pay taxes on their alofa (love offering from church members) would remain one of the most vivid pictures in the minds of many Samoans for years to come. There are lines that are not meant to be crossed; in Samoa this was one of them.

Add to all this, a measles crisis that killed more than 100 people, for which the government continues to refuse a Commission of Inquiry, and the election results become less surprising.

Some people had simply had enough.

Today, Samoa has arrived at a critical juncture in its journey. The tied election result is already a bitter defeat for Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his party who had arrogantly predicted that they would return to power with no less than 42 seats. They will not go down without a fight. Prime Minister Tuilaepa has already threatened FAST with legal challenges and multiple lawsuits; rest assured the kitchen sink will not be spared.

But you would expect FAST, the most organised political party we have seen in Samoa’s history, to be well prepared and ready for the war. Since its inception, Fiame, La’auli and the FAST family have survived against all the odds. But it’s going to get uglier before it gets better.

First up, FAST needs to secure Tuala Iosefo’s signature. Stay tuned!

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Mata’afa Keni Lesa

Mata’afa Keni Lesa is an award-winning Samoan journalist and the former Editor of the Samoa Observer News Group. He has more than 20 years experience in the news media.


  • Well said in every way – great coverage. A true summary of Samoa ‘s political history over 40 years.

  • Absolutely well written history of our current govt and its corrupt operations. I am for change. God save Samoa our beloved nation. Victory and praises be returned to God our Father who loves us. Thank you Ken for your comments.

  • Fa’amolemole po’o le a le fa’aiuga moni ua i ai nei? o loo tele lava news feavea’i ae o lo’o fia maua mai se tala mautinoa tonu lava le mea sa’o.

    oute ofo pe afai ae toe tula’i mai le HRPP, ova ma le 20 tausaga i le nofoaiga ae leai se suiga o Samoa. Fea uma o alu i ai fesoasoani mai i fafo mo le atunu’u, ae maua tala o le worth ole PM ua $625,000,000 U.S. ??? how is this even possible if he only earns about $70,000.00 Tala Samoa? it’s time for a New Change / New Leadership to benefit the Samoan Island, not just a family…

  • Well said Mata’afa. My prayers are with our country for God’s will to be done and the restoration of His principles back to our nation. Malō le tautua fa’atamali’i for the Glory of our King. The truth shall set us free. Love you uso keep up the good work.

  • Great article Mata’afa, what history it would be to witness the first female PM following in her fathers footsteps – time will tell. I’m an avid reader of the Samoan observer and this article compliments your newspaper well. I just wish I could afford the observers pay so I can read more. Faafetai lava uso.

  • Faafetai Eti. Appreciate your thoughts. There is a lot to thank the HRPP for but there is also a season for everything. One gets the feeling we are beginning a new season as a nation, even if its merely a more robust democratic parliament.

  • Thank you Mata’afa Keni Lesa – This is a well prepared & accurate report of Samoa’s bureaucratic machine from 1981 to 2021 pin-pointing how the Samoan public felt during that 40yrs!.. In Life when we hear see & smell wrong forceful directions from our leaders, emotional pus is formed in our bodies and an anti government sentiment grow within us due to the piercing powerful cruel words we encountered. Yet this same HRPP government was blessed at the beginning because they did good deeds as well as, which to me blinded them to the truth. They missed the onus here – serve the people not rule them.
    The report might show a false but qualified and slightly tainted bias against the HRPP for utilizing undemocratically-staged parliamentary bullying to bulldoze changes which needed the public’s approval before they were legally implemented into Law. Similar to a lawyer who defends a drug dealer then stumbles into money-laundering – success in one area make these fools think they can do anything they want anywhere. In Parliament as well as. All political leaders sometimes fool themselves by NOT learning to recognize the fact that they are NOT absolute but mere humans like the man on the street, and that true power lies with the people who can vote them out, hence the current election results. The HRPP’s fatal error was the miscalculation that they think they are another Samson. And tried to mess with the wrong real power-body directly connected to the Utmost Power in this Universe. As Mata’afa puts it, ” poked the wrong bear when they upset one of the strongest pillars in Samoan society, the dominant Congregational Christian Church of Samoa – You can fight the devil but never God! The Alofas for Heaven’s sake are offering from believers to help Gods Church, already left-overs from taxed income – so the HRPP doubled taxed the people here. WRONG AGAIN HRPP !!!
    In the old days as witnessed by France’s Revolution as well as other countries, the political heads’ who made similar mistakes were hastily met with a specially sharp blade from a political machine known as a guillotine. A fast and swift motion (if you may excuse the bloody pun) passed by the people with the people by the people’s majority vote.

    But who knows for sure? If winning by majority vote at a general election is the pure form of democracy, then the HRPP should go back and learn the fact that having more numbers in parliament does not institute to bulling the BeoBle of Samoa. Its only 5Years away bro.

    The down side of this result is there will be 2 Rolls Royces. One for Ponifasio and one for The New!!! – Prime Minissssssssssssster! Fiame and a Toyota Camry for the 3rd place getter. Too expensive but at least my emotional pus is leaking out real FAST (Excuse another Pun)
    I’m having a beer here to the Ex-Prime Minister, a relly of mine from the village of Falevao who did well for Samoa while he lasted. Cheers bro – now we can go fishing every week-end. Fa’a malo to the FAST party who are now record holders in “How to defeat a Politico-Bully”
    Here is a song for the voters of the 2021 Samoa Election – While this one is for the ex-PM of Samoa – this one for you – Ia ‘outou Manuia!

  • Thank you so much Mata’afa Keni Lesa for this great write up. We continue to pray for the good of our nation even though we reside outside. Prayers!!

    • Absolutely Albert. As a Christian country, forgotten in all this has been the prayers by churches in Samoa and outside. They have been seeking that the will of God be done in the election. After all, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and our politicians often say all leaders are chosen from above. The contribution by Samoans like yourself residing outside Samoa has been immense. Malo.

  • Well said Mata’afa,
    You have hit the” nail on the head “with all your comments…and always have, in past Editorials
    Keep up the good work…

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