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Samoa - Politics

The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) held a majority in the Fono for seven consecutive 5-year terms. As of 2017 there was no officially recognized opposition party. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled only three seats, which was not enough to form an official opposition. HRPP leader Tofilau Eti Alesana served as prime minister for nearly all of the period between 1982 and 1998, when he resigned due to health problems. Tofilau Eti Alesana was replaced by his deputy Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Parliamentary elections are held every 5 years, and the last was held in March 2006. The Human Rights Protection Party, led by Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, won 35 of the 49 seats. The Supreme Court ordered by-elections due to bribery and death of a member of parliament, leading the HRPP to gain two extra seats; the HRPP held 37 of 49 seats at the end of 2007. After the 2006 elections, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP) was the opposition party but later suffered defections and divisions that reduced it below the eight members required by parliamentary orders to constitute an official parliamentary party. Its remaining adherents thus officially become independents.

In March 2008, two HRPP members left the party in a dispute over legislation proposed by the Prime Minister to change the "road code" from driving on the right (American) side to driving on the left (British) side, which took effect September 2009. These resignations--the first in recent years--left the HRPP with 35 seats. In July 2008, two new political parties were formed: the Tautua Samoa Party (TSP), consisting of independents and the two individuals who had defected from the HRPP (however, not recognized in parliament because standing orders state they must have registered before the general election); and the People's Party (TPP), formed from a group protesting the government's legislation to switch the driving side of the road.

In June 2009, the Speaker of the House ordered that the nine parliamentary seats that claimed membership in the Tautua Samoa Party were void and ordered by-elections for the nine seats. The decision was made based on the Electoral Act, which states that no new party can be formed in parliament if it was not registered before the last general election. The TSP sought a legal injunction against the Speakers decision, and in July 2009 the Chief Justice ruled against the Speakers decision, noting the weak Electoral Act wording and interpretation by the Speaker. The members of TSP have since returned to parliament.

On September 7, 2009 Samoa made history by becoming the first country since the 1970s to switch the driving side of the roads from right (as in the United States) to left (as in the U.K.), after three of the biggest, most peaceful protest marches in Samoas history and an unsuccessful lawsuit against the government to stop the switch and/or delay the date of implementation. The switch happened as announced, with September 7 and 8, 2009 as mandated public holidays for Samoans to become accustomed to the change.

In October 2009 and February 2010, parliament amended the Electoral Act and Samoas Constitution, respectively, to disallow current members of parliament from being part of or associated with political parties other than parties of which they were members during their initial swearing of the oath of allegiance. As a result, in March 2010 three Independent members resigned from parliament, as they indicated their association with the Tautua Samoa Party. Two members of TSP were re-elected and another seat was gained by HRPP in the June by-election.

Observers considered the general election held on 04 March 2016 to be fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled only three seats, which was not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on various grounds, including bribery, treating, and gifting during the campaign. Of the six electoral petitions, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one based on lack of evidence. The withdrawal of these petitions however, involved as much scandal as the original purpose of the petition, with bribery, village pressure, and likelihood of countersuits on the same grounds cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

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