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Samoa - Government

The 1960 Constitution, which formally came into force with independence, is based on the British Westminster parliamentary system, modified to take account of Samoan customs. Malietoa Tanumafili II held the post of head of state for 45 years until his death in May 2007. His successor, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, was selected by the unicameral legislature (Fono) for a 5-year term.

The Fono contains 49 members serving 5-year terms. Forty-seven are elected from territorial districts by ethnic Samoans districts; the other two are chosen by non-Samoans on separate electoral rolls. Universal suffrage was extended in 1990, but only chiefs (matai) may stand for election to the Samoan seats. The voting age is 21 years and over. There are more than 30,000 matais registered but only 16,000 are in the country, about 8% of whom are women. The prime minister is chosen by a majority in the Fono and is appointed by the head of state to form a government. The 12 cabinet ministers are appointed by the head of state on the advice of the prime minister, and subject to the continuing confidence of the Fono.

The Executive Government is responsible for the day-to-day management of the State, including the enforcement of the laws of Samoa. Cabinet decides Governments policy. But policy-making is a process. This process begins with individual Ministers and their Ministries in preparing and submitting to Cabinet proposals and recommendations for consideration by the Ministers collectively. The Prime Minister and all Ministers, both individually and collectively, are bound by the principle of collective responsibility in Cabinet and to the Head of State, Parliament and the people of Samoa.

The judicial system is based on English common law and local customs. The Supreme Court is the court of highest jurisdiction. Its chief justice is appointed by the head of state upon the recommendation of the prime minister. Unique to Samoas judicial system is the Lands and Titles Court, which hears customary/traditional land and matai title grievances.

Village fono handled many civil and criminal matters, but the councils varied considerably in decision-making styles and the number of matai involved in decisions. The law recognizes the decisions of the local council and provides for limited appeal to the Lands and Titles Court and the Supreme Court. The nature and severity of a dispute determines which court receives an appeal. Defendants may make a further appeal to the Court of Appeal. A Supreme Court ruling stipulates that local councils may not infringe upon villagers freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. Village councils, however, consistently ignored this ruling.

The government continued a review of the 1990 Village Fono Act, which provides legal recognition of the decisions of the fono, to determine whether the act gives the local councils excessive authority to limit individual rights under a broadly defined public order exception. Universal suffrage was introduced in 1991. However, by convention, only tribal chiefs (Matai) may stand for election. There are two main political parties, the governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) and the opposition Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP), plus a small number of Independent MPs.

While the constitution gives all citizens older than 21 years the right to vote and run for office, by social custom candidates for all 50 seats in parliament must be matai titleholders, who are the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10.5 percent were women. Matai controlled local governments through the village councils and appointment to the councils rather than by direct election.

The 2016 election was the first since parliament passed an electoral amendment requiring all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run in the elections. The intent of the law was to specify that candidates fulfill their cultural commitments to their village, and not just use their village matai name to run for elections or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes.

This amendment led to a number of court petitions and disqualifications of five candidates who were deemed not to meet the necessary monotaga requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since the monotaga definition is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) to different villages. Such subjective decisions that resulted in disqualifications were seen by some as human rights violations.

Samoa is made up of eleven itumalo (political districts). These are the traditional eleven districts that were established well before European arrival. Each district has its own constitutional foundation (faavae) based on the traditional order of title precedence found in each districts faalupega (traditional salutations).

The capital village of each district administers and coordinates the affairs of the district and confers each districts paramount title, amongst other responsibilities. For example, the District of Aana has its capital at Leulumoega. The paramount title of Aana is the TuiAana. The orator group which confers this title the Faleiva (House of Nine) is based at Leulumoega. This is also the same for the other districts. In the district of Tuamasaga, the paramount title of the district The Malietoa title is conferred by the FaleTuamasaga based in Afega.

The itumalo are further subdivided in 41 faipule districts. They have no administrative function, but serve as electoral constituencies. The faipule districts are also used as regional units for statistics.

The faipule electoral districts are based loosely on the traditional sub-districts of the Itumalo. For example, the faipule districts of Anoamaa West and Anoamaa East are based on the traditional sub-district of Anoamaa in the northern half of the Atua district.

At the local level, there are 265 villages. Additionally, there are some 45 villages the capital Apia is composed of. Apia does not have a common administration, the local power rests with the constituent villages.

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