I have read about how Samoa was created as an elective monarchy when it became independent in 1962. However, from what I read, some question whether Samoa counts as a parliamentary republic (as the heads of state are elected in elected for five-year terms by parliament) or an elective monarchy (heads of state are called "His Highness" and the Constitution doesn't expressly mention a change in government from an elective monarchy). Can Samoa still be considered a true elective monarchy if the monarchs are chosen by Parliament and elected just for 5 year terms?

  • Who chooses parliament?
    – Joe W
    Feb 1 '20 at 21:23
  • From what I've read, parliament is chosen by Samoan citizens over 21(web.archive.org/web/20090306004947/http://www.parliament.gov.ws/…).
    – Tyler Mc
    Feb 1 '20 at 21:27
  • Practice is more powerful here than theory. While the constitution has a pathway for a popularly elected ordinary citizen to become monarch, in practice it vanishingly unlikely that anyone could do so. The population is generally conservative in their support for their chiefs, their traditional way of life and the monarchy. In practice its a unique constitutional monarchy where the monarch is a traditional chief elected by parliament. Feb 3 '20 at 7:41
  • @OrbitalAussie if you could support your points with some data, that would be a very nice answer.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 6 '20 at 22:50
  • While my comment was based upon personal knowledge of Samoa, I can support this by some basic research on Wikipedia too. I’ll draft an answer as suggested. Feb 8 '20 at 13:11

Practice is more powerful here than theory in my opinion. The constitution has a theoretical pathway for a popularly elected ordinary citizen to become Head of State - apparently classifying it as a republic. However, the political realities of Samoa, framed as they are by the deeply entrenched traditional chiefly system (fa'amatai) means it is much better described as an elective monarchy. But even this classification doesn’t quite fit. I’d describe the nation as a unique constitutional monarchy where the head of state is a traditional chieftain (matai) elected by his chiefly peers in parliament, and bearing the title O le Ao o le Malo — the ”chieftain of the government“.

The national legislature is the Samoan Parliament (the Fono). The executive government (a prime minister and cabinet) is drawn from, and accountable to, that Parliament (as in other systems of responsible government, including nearby New Zealand and Australia). While all adults (aged 21 and over) can vote in parliamentary elections, the candidates, for 47 of the 49 seats, must be matai (or family “chiefs”). However, matai are themselves selected by consensus of their families and make up about 9% of the population (2011 census).

So, Members of Parliament, including the prime minister and cabinet, are nearly all matai. It is they who must, under the constitution, elect the O le Ao o le Malo to serve for a five year term as the nation’s largely non-executive head of state. That person in practice will always be a matai, chosen according to popularly supported custom and tradition.

At first glance this system of government looks quite feudal - akin to the elective monarchies of Anglo-Saxon Britain, for example. But in fact there are many of the features of modern democracy here too and, even more importantly, there might be said to be something very democratic (almost in an Ancient Greek sense) in the grassroots underpinning of society by the fa'amatai chiefly system and in the “unique nature of matai selection based on consensus, merit, custom and due process rather than automatic hereditary selection”.

  • 2
    Re "47 of the 49 seats", out of sheer curiousity, what of the other two, and why are they different?
    – jamesqf
    Feb 8 '20 at 17:15
  • 1
    @jamesqf. They are seats voted for by citizens who are not ethnic Samoans. The constitution says two members shall be elected “under the 2 urban constituencies provided by Act, by persons whose names appear on the urban constituency roll.” (I notice there are errors and inconsistencies In the Wikipedia articles around this.) Feb 8 '20 at 22:36

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