Samoa’s government system regarding political participation


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18 April 2011

SECTION 3 RESPECT FOR POLITICAL RIGHTS: THE RIGHT OF CITIZENS TO CHANGE THEIR GOVERNMENT

The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation
The most recent elections, held in 2006, were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the Supreme Court ordered 10 by-elections. All the mandated by-elections were conducted and generally considered free and fair.

The law does not prohibit the formation of opposition parties, but there were no officially recognized opposition parties. Restrictive rules limiting the formation of viable opposition political parties has allowed the ruling political party to dominate government since 1982.

In October 2009 and February 2010, parliament amended the Electoral Act and the constitution, respectively, to disallow current members of parliament from joining or associating with political parties other than those of which they were members during their initial oath of allegiance.

As a result, in March three Independent members resigned from parliament because of their association with the Tautua Samoa Party. After by-elections in May, two members were reelected, while the ruling Human Rights Protection Party gained the other seat.

While the constitution gives all citizens above the age of 21 the right to vote and run for office, by social custom candidates for 47 of the 49 seats in parliament are drawn from the approximately 30,000 matai, who are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Although both men and women are permitted to become matai, only 8 percent were women. Matai controlled local government through the village fono, which were open to them alone.

There were four women in the 49-member parliament, three of whom served in the 13-member cabinet. One woman served as head of a constitutional office, two women as chief executive officers of government ministries, and six women as general managers of government corporations. There are no constitutional quotas reserved for the number of female parliamentarians.

The political rights of citizens who are not of ethnic Samoan heritage are addressed by the reservation of two parliamentary seats for at-large members of parliament, known as “individual voters” seats. One at-large cabinet minister and parliamentarian was of mixed European-Samoan heritage. Citizens of mixed European-Samoan or Chinese-Samoan heritage were well represented in the civil service.

[Samoan Observer

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