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Samoa : Constitution and politics


Parliament of Samoa
1 January 1962

Samoa is a democracy, with a unicameral legislature, the Fono; a Prime Minister who selects the cabinet; and a head of state, similar to a constitutional monarch. Under the constitution, the head of state is elected by the Fono for five years. However, by a special arrangement decided on in 1962 when the constitution came into force, Malietoa Tanumafili II (who died in 2007) and one other senior chief (who died in 1963) were to hold the office for life.

The Prime Minister, who must be a member of the Fono and be supported by a majority of its members, is appointed by the head of state. The Prime Minister chooses 12 members to form the cabinet, which has charge of executive government. The head of state must give their assent to new legislation before it becomes law.

The Fono has 49 members, 47 elected in 41 constituencies by universal adult suffrage, to be contested only by matai title holders (chiefs of aiga, or extended families, of whom there are around 25,000), and two elected from separate electoral rolls comprising those of foreign descent. The Fono sits for five-year terms.

Until 1991 only the matai were eligible to vote, but following a plebiscite universal adult suffrage was introduced in time for that year’s elections. The matai, whose office is elective for life, still administer local government in the traditional manner. They are trustees for customary land held on behalf of the people, which makes up about 80 per cent of all the land in the country.


In the general election in March 2001, the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) – with 23 seats – won more seats than any other party, but was nonetheless challenged by the combined strength of the United Independents (12 seats) and Samoan National Development Party (SNDP; 13). On the resumption of parliament, however, HRPP leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi was re-elected Prime Minister and enough independents joined the HRPP to give it an absolute majority.

The general election in March 2006 saw a return to power of the HRPP, increasing its number of seats to 33 with gains from both Samoan Democratic United Party (formerly SNDP, with ten seats) and independents (six).

Malietoa Tanumafili II, head of state since independence in January 1962, died in May 2007 aged 94. According to the constitution, in June 2007 the Fono elected Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi as his successor for a five-year term.

In the March 2011 general election the HRPP and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi were returned with an increased majority. The HRPP and independents supporting the HRPP together secured 36 seats. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party won 13 seats.

In July 2012 the Fono re-elected Tupua unopposed for a second five-year term as head of state.

Head of government

The Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister
The Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi is serving his fourth term in office as Prime Minister of Samoa after his victory in the March 2011 general election. He was earlier elected into office in the March 2006 general election. Mr Malielegaoi first served as Prime Minister from November 1998 to March 2001 when his predecessor, Tofilau Eti Alesana, stepped down. Mr Malielegaoi is concurrently Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as Minister of Finance. He served as Deputy Prime Minister from 1991 to 1998, and also held the concurrent ministerial portfolios of Finance, Tourism, as well as Trade, Commerce and Industry, which he oversaw from 1988 to 1991. Mr Malielegaoi has held other key appointments, including Chairperson of the Pacific Branch of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) from 1988 to 2000, and Co-President of the ACP‐European Union Council of Ministers in 1990 and 1992. Mr Malielegaoi held ministerial portfolios in Finance, Economic Affairs, Transport and Civil Aviation from 1982 to 1985. He became a Member of Parliament in May 1981. Before embarking on a political career, Mr Malielegaoi was Deputy Financial Secretary in the Treasury from 1973 to 1981. During this period, he served in the ACP Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium, as an expert on intra-ACP trade, transport and communications, from 1978 to 1980. Before joining the civil service, Mr Malielegaoi was a partner in an accounting firm in Samoa. He has a Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Commerce from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand in 2012 as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Economics by the National University of Samoa in 2014. He is also a certified public accountant. He was born on 14 April 1945 in Lepa, Samoa.