The leader of the opposition Tautua Samoa Party, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, says proposed changes to the electoral act will see two seats reserved for mixed-race voters done away with, meaning only people with chiefly or orator titles, known as matai, will be permitted to sit in parliament. He says this is undemocratic, and is calling on Australia and New Zealand to pressure Samoa to change the system. But it's a charge Samoa's prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, rejects.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Samoa's prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi
MALIELEGAOI: Well that is a very wrong interpretation of the amendment. When the constitution was drawn up our forefathers reserved two seats for the descendants of the early settlers that came to Samoa. It was anticipated that over time these two seats would disappear, but of course and then revert back to an all-Matai parliament to comply with our culture. However as party system grow the parties themselves became very active, particularly my party in ensuring that the offspring of those in the role were registered. And we played, that is the HRPP party played a very strong role in ensuring continuity of the individual voter's role. Now the decision is that we make them all Matais.
HILL: Well that's the point that he was actually trying to make. What he was suggesting was that having only Matai elected to parliament, only people of chiefly rank is in itself somewhat undemocratic?
MALIELEGAOI: Listen you did not get what I am trying to say, you were too impatient. The Matai, the representatives, the representatives in the House, members of parliament would be only Matais. But those who elect them include Matais and non-Matais. So for the first time we now have uniformity in our system and there is no more discrimination. And for the first time we have a proper democracy, everybody there would be elected in accordance with our little system, Matais and non-Matais, and if you want to run in the individual voter's role, all you need to do is to get a Matai, which is very easy like buying a loaf of bread on Sunday morning.
HILL: How does that work?
MALIELEGAOI: Very easy, you just go and get your family to confer to you a Matai title and bingo, you have a Matai title.
HILL: If it's that easy why isn't everyone a Matai?
MALIELEGAOI: Because not everybody wants to observe the obligations that the Matai must carry out.
HILL: Why is it important culturally in Samoa that only Matai can be in parliament?
MALIELEGAOI: Because this country is run by Matais and a Matai is of course elected by instead of members of the family, a lot of whom are not Matais. So you see that was the system we had before the Europeans came and that was our democracy. And as you remember no system is a perfect system, even the Western democracy is not a perfect system, it is the only system that we have that seems to have less evils, but it is still an evil system.
HILL: Because he said only Matais can be in parliament and this means it's not a proper democracy, he was calling on Australia and New Zealand as aid donors to put pressure on Samoa about this?
MALIELEGAOI: That is rubbish, you know what is more important is those who make the decision on who go to parliament. And if you want to be a Matai yourself there is no politician against you becoming a Matai. It is a freedom in Samoa, it is a right.