Identifying a new Head of State for Samoa

Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II

Samoa's political stability is under the spotlight with the passing of His Highness, Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II on Friday May 11, 2007.

He was without peer in Samoa and the Pacific with the possible exception of one clergymen and Masiofo Fetauimalemau Mata'afa.

Samoa has been spared the political upheavals unfolding elsewhere, violent outbreaks of tribal tensions in Melanesia, Fiji's growing political, civil and military coups, bankruptcy in Nauru and civil riots in Tonga.

During Malietoa's watch, he had witnessed and endured the loneliness of seeing many of his colleagues moving on. This included his co-Head of State, six Members of the Council of Deputies, four Prime Ministers, and numerous veteran politicians.

His passing completes the passage of an old order, leaders and colonial mentors who guided small, isolated and fragile nations to independence, the likes of whom included such luminaries as Hammer de Robert of Nauru, Albert Henry of Cook Islands, the four big of Fiji (two Cakobaus, Ganilau and Mara-Tuisawau), Robert Rex of Niue and the Tongan King.

The questions is: Who will be his successor and will Samoa's political stability continue? Identifying a successor is a poignant moment to pause and reflect on this question.

Succession is of special significance because like most of Western Polynesia, succession to high titles constituted the single most important cause of political upheavals in Samoa's political past.

Samoa's failure to solve it ultimately ushered in colonial rule, first under the Germans in 1900, then New Zealand in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War, second as a mandate under the League of Nation in 1921-1946, then as a Trust Territory under the United Nations from 1947 to 1962, and finally 1962.

Appointing a successor

In light of a power vacuum, what are the rules for appointing a successor to the office of head of state, who are the candidates and what criteria will they be considered.

History of the struggle over succession to Kingship

In Fiji and Western Polynesia, succession to power has almost always been achieved through a combination of birth, merit and luck.

Tonga institutionalised the principle of primogeniture in its constitution of 1875.

Since 1874 under colonial rule, Queen Victoria was the ruler but at the local level, the Vunivalu of Bau from Kubuna retained its pre-eminence.

Since independence in 1970, the highest office of Governor-General and then President was rotated among the titular heads of the three 19th century confederacies, Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata.

From 1970 to 1982 it was the Vunivalu of Bau, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, from 1983 to 1993, Tui Cakau, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, and from 1994 to 2000, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

While the pre-eminent titleholder of Burebasaga has not held the post, from 2001, Tui Vuda, Ratu Josefa Iloilo is symbolic of Burebasaga.

In Samoa, the contest over the kingship was dominated by two principle families, Sa Tupua, who dominated the kingship from late-1500 to 1800 and Sa Malietoa, who rose to power in the early 19th century.

This rise coincided with increasing European presence, particularly the Missionaries.

Malietoa Vainu'upo and his brother Malietoa Natuitasina raised the family's national profile.

Their descendants, Moli, Talavou, Laupepa and Fa'alata, and the two Tanumafilis have been associated with Samoan leadership at the highest level for the last 170 years.

The Sa Tupua and Sa Malietoa rivalry from the nineteenth century was to some extent contained through the principle of the offices of a King and a Vice King.

The principle was introduced in 1875 by an American adventurer, and appealed to a Samoan sense of fairness.

At independence, all Tama'Aiga (paramount titleholders) were recognised and all given first consideration for the highest offices of the land.

Malietoa Tanumafili II and Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole were appointed as Joint Heads of State for life, Tuimaleali'ifano Suatipatipa II was appointed the sole member of the Council of Deputies, and the fourth, Mata'afa, was elected as Prime Minister under his non-Tama'Aiga title of Fiame.

Who qualifies for Head of State and what are the rules?

The main criterion is to be a matai (titleholder).

This means 35,000 matai titleholders from a population of 181,000 Samoans are eligible. The appointing authority lies with Parliament and the successor's term is five years.

The first eligible candidates are the 47 matai out of 49 MPs.

However, the architects of the Constitution provided for a three-member Council of Deputies, reserved nominally (but not exclusively) for Tama'Aiga titleholders as a way of minimising rivalry among political families.

The sole function of this Council is to deputise for the Head of State.

The Samoan mentality is that nomination for the position of Head of State is normally reserved but again not exclusively from the Council of Deputies.

The eligible candidates

Who are the most eligible candidates and by what criteria?

The three member Council of Deputies has two members Tuimalealiifano Va'aleto'a Eti and Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi. Given that the late Head of State was held by Sa Malietoa, the next Head of State should be from Sa Tupua.

Both candidates belong to this family.

Factors considered for selection include age, suitability and performance, support within Parliament and particularly from the Governing Human Rights Protection Party.

Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi

At 71 years, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi would seem to have the most credentials.

He was installed to Tama'aiga rank in November 1986. He is also an heir of Ta'isi Olaf Frederick Nelson, the prominent Mau activist of 1900s.

At the political level, he entered Parliament in 1972 under a tulafale title of Tupuola and four yeas later in 1976, he defeated his first cousin and rival for the Tama'aiga title of Tupua Tamasese, to become Prime Minister.

In 1982, he was toppled by the newly created Human Rights Protection Party after mis-handling the Public Service Association strike for better terms and conditions.

While he retained his Parliamentary seat for most of his 20 years in national politics, and despite his elevation to Tama'Aiga rank and Tui Atua honours in 1986 and 1987 respectively, he did not regain the Prime Ministership.

In addition to his role as Leader of the Samoa National Democratic Opposition Party, he has been a popular speaker at the regional and international stage and has also published on Samoan culture.

His major handicaps would appear to be that his father had already served as Joint Head of State with the late Malietoa.

Many in the HRPP Government will remember his often biting criticism of Government while Leader of the Opposition and will no doubt be under close scrutiny by the current HRPP Government.

Within his own extended Tupua Tamasese family, there is the memory of his defiance by challenging his predecessor for Tama'aiga honours and then ousting him from Prime Ministership.

Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aleto'a Eti

Born in 1947, he is the younger of the two contenders.

His predecessor, Tuimaleali'ifano Suatipatipa II, was the first Member of the Council of Deputies.

He succeeded to the Tama'aiga title in 1977.

Unlike Tupua Tamasese Efi, his is of humble background.

Before his appointment to Tama'aiga rank, he worked in the Police Department and rose through the ranks to be a Special Assistant to the Police Commissioner.

He obtained a law degree from ANU in 1986 and then worked as a civil servant until 1993 (Attorney-General from 1986-1988, Office of the Public Defender from 1989 to 1991, and Public Trustee from 1991 to 1993).

In July 1993, the HRPP government appointed him and former Prime Minister Va'ai Kolone to the Council of Deputies.

He has had served as a Member of the Council for almost 10 years, first from 1993 to 2001, and again from 2005 to 2007.

Two factors are against him. He was implicated in the controversial Su'a Rimoni Ah Chong Audit Report of 1993-1994 and an out of court settlement was recently announced in 2005.

His second handicap was when he ran for Parliament in the 2001 election.

Against the advice of extended and political families, he resigned from the Council of Deputies to run and lost.

He suffered the humiliation of losing his seat on the Council of Deputies and banishment from his village constituency.

He was reinstated by the political family in 2002 and returned to the council after being in the political wilderness for three years.

Church affiliation and wives

Church affiliation is another important factor.

Tupua Tamasese is a Methodist and enjoys close ties with the Catholic Church.

Tuimaleali'ifano is a member of the Congregational Christian Church, the largest in the country.

He is a Lay Preacher and associated with church hierarchy where has held senior positions including Commissioner of Property.

Their wives are indomitable people endowed with strong professional connections and modern qualifications.

Tupua Tamasese's wife, a long time educator, has strong business connections while Tuimaleali'ifano's wife, originally a Catholic and a matai herself, is a qualified Town Planner. Both have worked in Government.

Calm, clear and a bright head

At the time of writing, the HRPP Cabinet was to consider its nomination before Parliament is convened to elect a new Head of State.

Although not provided in the constitution, there is an expectation that the Members of the Council of Deputies would initiate discussion of a successor from their ranks.

If they cannot agree on one, then it would seem desirable for Cabinet to step in and make a recommendation.

There is something to be said about the value inherent in the principle of rotation.

Sa Tupua has been waiting for 45 years.

According to media commentators, Tupua Tamasese Efi is the favourite.

Whoever it will be, both candidates would be aware that Sa Tupua is presented with an opportunity to make a contribution after almost two generations of a Sa Malietoa at the top of the Malo.

Calm, clear and bright heads are needed.

And if after five years, the two are still alive and are enjoined by representatives of Sa Mata'afa and Sa Malietoa or indeed by any other family, it might be useful to re-consider the application of the rotation principle more widely.

That instead of confining to Sa Tupua or Sa Malietoa or other families, all candidates consider the nation rather than tribal affiliation.

By reviewing the application of the principle in light of changing global realities, Samoa's reputation as a modern, stable and democratising nation is assured.

Post script

On Friday June 15, 2007, the Human Rights Protection Party formally moved the name of Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi as Samoa's next Head of State. Parliament unanimously accepted his nomination as Samoa's Head of State for five years.

His appointment was overshadowed by what promises to be a titanic court struggle over who will be the next Malietoa.nDr Tuimaleali'ifano's views are not those of the university where he is employed. His paper was presented at a seminar on Thursday, June 14, 2007.

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