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Samoa Travel Guide

Government Building, Apia
The Government Building rises beyond the yacht anchorage in Apia harbor.

Government

Samoa's government is a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister elected by Parliament from its ranks. The prime minister chooses a 13-member Cabinet, also from among Parliament.

After independence, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II, Paramount Chief of Samoa, served as ceremonial head of state until his death in 2007. His successor as head of state was chosen by Parliament for a five-year term from among the four tama aiga, or paramount chiefs (Malietoa, Mata'afa, Tuimalealiifano, and Tupua Tamasese).

Initially 47 of the 49 members of parliament were elected every five years by the 20,000 registered chiefs, or matai, (most of them men) on a constituency basis, and only two by non-Samoan residents on the Individual Voters Roll. In 1990, all citizens aged 21 and over were allowed to vote in a referendum that approved universal suffrage and an extension of the term of office from three to five years.

The old system of only allowing matai to run for the 47 Samoan seats was retained, however. An untitled person (tautau) can only be elected to parliament after he/she first becomes a matai, a situation which helps preserve traditional Samoan culture. Lower ranking matai are actively discouraged from running against high ranking matai and families can be banished from their village if they fail to support their high chief.

There are two main political parties: the Human Rights Protection Party and the Samoa Democratic United Party. As elsewhere in Anglophone Oceania, political parties revolve more around personalities than policies. In the past, campaign funds have been used to "buy" votes and official corruption was rampant. The post of member of parliament - especially if one is a member of the ruling party - can be lucrative, and some parliamentarians are not above using bribery to win their seats. In 1999, Samoa saw its first political assassination since independence, when a cabinet minister was slain by a gunman linked to two former cabinet ministers involved in corruption scandals.

The 11 administrative districts (A'ana, Aiga-i-le-Tai, Atua, Fa'asaleleaga, Gaga'emauga, Gagaifomauga, Palauli, Satupa'itea, Tuamasaga, Va'a-o-Fonoti, and Vaisigano) are used only for the organization of government services, and district officers don't exist. Samoa has no army and very few police: those responsibilities are assumed by the matai. The only police stations on Upolu are at Apia, Faleolo, Lalomanu, and Poutasi; elsewhere the authority of village law prevails.