Freedom in the World
The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) captured the most seats in the March 2011 legislative elections. The HRPP’s Tuila’epa Aiono Sailele Milielegaoi was elected to a third term as prime minister. In January, the government ended its monopoly on telephone and internet services with the privatization of the state-owned telecommunications provider, SamoaTel.
Germany controlled what is now Samoa between 1899 and World War I. New Zealand administered the islands under a UN mandate after World War II. The country gained independence in 1962.
The centrist Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated politics since independence. Tuila’epa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi of the HRPP secured a second term as prime minister in the 2006 legislative elections, in which the HRPP won 35 seats, the Samoa Democratic United Party captured 10 seats, and independents took the remainder. Former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi was elected head of state by the legislature in June 2007.
In the March 4, 2011, parliamentary elections, the HRPP took 36 seats, while the Tautua Somoa Party (TSP) captured the remaining 13 seats. The elections were generally regarded as fair and open, though the electoral court found four lawmakers from both the HRPP and TSP—including the head of the TSP—guilty of bribing voters, and stripped them of their seats. Twelve candidates from the HRPP and three from the TSP competed for the vacant seats in special by-elections in July. The HRPP captured all four seats, boosting its majority to 40 seats in the parliament. Tuila’epa was subsequently elected to a third term as prime minister.
Samoa depends heavily on annual remittances of $350 million from some 100,000 Samoans living abroad. The country has also been forging closer ties with China to benefit from financial aid, development loans, and the sale of fishing licenses, though the rapid expansion of Chinese presence in Samoan businesses has led local business leaders to warn of rising social tensions. To raise further revenue for the country, the government legalized casino gambling in 2010, though no casinos had opened by the end of the 2011. Samoans will be barred from the casinos to appease religious opponents who worry that gambling will have a corrupting influence on society. In December 2011, Samoa was admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO); it has until June 2012 to ratify the agreement.
The role and powers of village chiefs continued to stir controversy in 2011. Matai, or chiefs of extended families, control local government and churches through the village fono, or legislature, which is open only to them. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the village fono could not infringe on freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association. However, entire families have been forced to leave their villages for allegedly insulting a matai, embracing a different religion, or voting for political candidates not endorsed by the matai. In June 2011, a matai who ran in the March general elections was banished by his village, which had backed another candidate.
Samoa is an electoral democracy. Executive authority is vested in the head of state, who is elected for five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. The head of state appoints the prime minister, who leads the government and names his own cabinet. All laws passed by the 49-member, unicameral Legislative Assembly must receive approval from the head of state to take effect. Approval of the matai is essential for most candidates for elected office. Two legislative seats are reserved for at-large voters, mostly citizens of mixed or non-Samoan heritage who have no ties to the 47 village-based constituencies. All lawmakers serve five-year terms. The main political parties are the HRPP and the TSP.
Official corruption and abuses are a source of increasing public discontent. In January 2011, a lawmaker was charged with 15 counts of theft and fraud related to the unlawful transfer of ownership of freehold land. In June, two former finance ministry employees were found guilty of stealing $400,000 and were sentenced to three years in jail. Samoa was ranked 69 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected. The government operates one of three television stations, and there are several English-language and Samoan newspapers. A lawmaker who lost his seat in the 2011 elections sued TV3, a privately owned station, for defamation in its broadcasts prior to the elections. In December, TV3 was found guilty, and the station’s manager and a reporter were fined $60,000. In January 2011, the government ended its monopoly on telephone and internet services by privatizing the national telecommunications provider SamoaTel.
The government respects freedom of religion in practice, and relations among religious groups are generally amicable. There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom in 2011.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected, and human rights groups operate freely. Approximately 60 percent of adults work in subsistence agriculture, and about 20 percent of wage earners belong to trade unions. Workers, including civil servants, can strike and bargain collectively.
The judiciary is independent and upholds the right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court is the highest court, with full jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. The head of state, on the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints the chief justice. In January 2011, Mata Keli Tuatagaloa became the first woman named as district court judge. Prisons generally meet minimum international standards.
Samoa has no military, and the small police force has little impact in the villages, where the fono settles most disputes. The councils vary considerably in their decision-making styles and in the number of matai involved. Light offenses are usually punished with fines; serious offenses result in banishment from the village.
Domestic violence against women and children is common. Spousal rape is not illegal, and social pressure and fear of reprisal inhibit reporting of domestic abuse. In November 2011, Leatinu’u Salote Lesa became the first woman to head a political party in Samoa when she was elected to lead the TSP. In October 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality, which it argues is contrary to Samoan culture and values.