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Samoa election 2021: still no clear winner despite creation of new seat

Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Ta/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Ta/AFP/Getty Images

After what commentators have referred to as the most dramatic election of the Pacific century and almost two weeks of twists and turns, Samoa’s polls have still failed to produce a clear winner.

The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has ruled the small island country for 39 years, and its long-serving leader, Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi, faced their biggest election challenge yet in Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (Fast), led by Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the country’s first female MP and a former deputy prime minister.

Despite having only been formed in June last year and running just 50 candidates to HRPP’s 100, Fast held the HRPP to a dead heat in the 9 April elections. Each won 25 seats in the 51-seat parliament, with one going to an independent.

The electoral districts in Savai’i, the bigger island and which is more neglected in terms of development, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new party.

Related: Samoa's ruling party faces new threat – after nearly 40 years in power

The nation was on tenterhooks as it waited for the lone independent, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, to decide which party he would support, thus determining Samoa’s government for the next five years.

But his much anticipated announcement on Wednesday was overshadowed when the head of state, Afioga Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, declared the creation of an extra seat to meet a temporary special measure requiring that women make up at least 10% of MPs.

The allocation of the seat to HRPP candidate Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau put the party in the lead. But their success was short-lived, with Tuala later announcing that he would join Fast, once again leaving the two parties in a dead heat.

The creation of the extra seat by the government-appointed head of state was criticised by the opposition as a last ditch move to win the election.

“The additional MP seat is a clear side step and a misuse of the law and the constitution,” Fast leader Mata’afa told reporters on Wednesday. Her party filed a lawsuit challenging the creation of the extra seat as unlawful and constitutional.

Ironically, the measure that was imposed to increase participation of women in politics, may be the very thing that prevents Samoa from getting its first female prime minister.

But Malielegaoi defended the move, saying:“The addition of an extra seat in parliament is a measure to make sure we have enough women in parliament. This is a good thing.”