by Asofou So'o
Since their independence in 1962 the Pacific islands of Samoa have held regular parliamentary elections under limited franchise based on indigenous socio-political structures. Universal suffrage was introduced in 1991. The formation of a party system, which began in the 1980s, went along with the change from the traditional elite consensus to more competitive politics.
The islands of Samoa were settled by Polynesian exponents of the lapita culture three thousand years ago. A specific type of socio-political rule—generally referred to as the matai (chiefly) system—evolved in the period preceding European contact, in the late 1700s. Under this system the state was divided into independent political units, where matai of various ranks and categories resided, as well as members of their respective families. These units (or political divisions) were in turn divided into sub-districts, and, at the lowest level, into villages. Families were headed by matai who represented the family in the local council of matai, which was the legislative, judicial, and executive authority of the village. When required, as in matters of general concern to all people, different political units convened meetings following traditionally established procedures and protocols.
The arrival of the Europeans brought new political ideas, institutions and practices which blended with the indigenous matai system. The first such blend was the 1873 Constitution, elaborated after the settlement of a civil war which had begun in 1869. This text established the first Samoan central government in the modern sense. The new political system provided for a bicameral Parliament with an Upper House (Ta'imua) and a Lower House (Faipule), both comprising high ranking matai who were chosen by their fellow matai in traditional territorial constituencies. Elections to both chambers involved discussions among matai until unanimity was reached on their choice of candidate. Among the criteria considered