22 Apr 2021

Electoral upheaval in Samoa as vote makes history

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 22 April 2021
Samoa's main political parties are tied

Samoa's main political parties are tied Photo: Office of the Samoa Electoral Commission

Cliff-hanger, seismic shift, historic, unprecedented. There's a lot of hyperbole surrounding the drama-filled Samoan election.

It is seismic, says Dr Damon Salesa, Auckland University's pro vice-chancellor Pacific, because for the first time in more than 30 years it is a "truly competitive election". 

"This is the equivalent of still having the remnants of a Muldoon government in power. It's been that long that this party has been there and this prime minister has been in place since 1998."

But nearly two weeks after the vote, Samoans still don't know if their leader of 22 years, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and the Human Rights Protection Party, HRPP, will be ousted by his former deputy Fiame Naomi Mata'afa  and her FAST party, which translates as Faith in the One True God. 

Today Salesa and Samoan journalist Keni Lesa tell The Detail why the election is already having an impact in Samoa and across the region - even before the final outcome.

At the weekend, the final count confirmed each party with 25 seats, and it looked like the single independent candidate, Tuala Tevaga Iosefa Ponifasio, would have the crucial casting vote to determine the government for the next five years. 

But on Tuesday night there was a new twist when the Head of State elected a new female MP to Parliament, to meet the required quota of 10 percent women MPs.

The leader of the HRPP party, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

The leader of the HRPP party, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi Photo: RNZ Pacific/Tipi Autagavaia

That took the number of seats to 52 and gave HRPP a one-seat majority, 26 -25.

Yesterday, Ponifasio took the vote back to a deadlock when he chose to go with FAST. However, in another development the newcomers challenged the appointment of the new female MP and are taking court action over an opposition MP with a criminal conviction.

Salesa says the petitions over individual seats are yet to go to court, which could also affect the outcome. But no matter what that outcome is, the result is already game changing.

“This will be by far the strongest opposition Samoa’s ever seen,” he says. “There will be real opposition looking to pick holes in the government, things that haven’t happened in Samoa that has really been to Samoa’s detriment. It’s really only been the press in Samoa in the last 40 years that have been any kind of independent critical voice that has spoken for the people.”

The Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi party leader, Fiame Naomi Mataafa

The Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi party leader, Fiame Naomi Mataafa Photo: RNZ Pacific/Tipi Autagavaia

Keni Lesa says Samoans are excited and nervous about the result, which has divided families. 

"People are so shocked. People are asking so many questions," says Lesa.

“The result as it stands already is a massive slap in the face of the HRPP because they expected to come back with 42 members.”

“During the past year people have really found their voices and wanted change – and were very vocal about it.

“People have finally had enough. People have just woken up and said ‘enough is enough’.”