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Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi
|6th Prime Minister of Samoa|
23 November 1998
Disputed with Fiame Naomi Mata?afa
since 24 May 2021
|Malietoa Tanumafili II|
Tupua Tamasese Efi
Tuimalealiifano Va'aletoa Sualauvi II
|Deputy||Misa Telefoni Retzlaff|
Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo
Fiame Naomi Mata'afa
|Tofilau Eti Alesana|
|Fiame Naomi Mata'afa (disputed)|
|5th Minister of Foreign Affairs|
23 November 1998
|Tofilau Eti Alesana|
|Minister of Natural Resources and Environment|
11 September 2020
|Fiame Naomi Mata'afa|
|3rd Leader of the Human Rights Protection Party|
23 November 1998
|Tofilau Eti Alesana|
|Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa|
1991 - 23 November 1998
|Tofilau Eti Alesana|
|Tupua Tamasese Efi|
|Misa Telefoni Retzlaff (2001)|
|Member of the Samoan Parliament|
14 April 1945
Lepa, Western Samoa Trust Territory (now Samoa)
|Political party||Human Rights Protection Party|
|Alma mater||University of Auckland|
Tuila'epa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sa'ilele Malielegaoi (born 14 April 1945) is a Samoan politician who has served as leader of the Human Rights Protection Party and the Prime Minister of Samoa since 1998. However, since 24 May 2021 his claim to the office of prime minister has been the matter of a dispute, as it is also claimed by Naomi Mataʻafa, whose party formed a parliamentary majority after the 2021 election. Tuilaepa first entered parliament in 1981 when he won a by-election to represent the electorate of Lepa. He also served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the government of former Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, and in addition also held the portfolios of Tourism and Trade, Commerce & Industry.
Tuilaepa, born in the village of Lepa on the island of Upolu, attended high school at St Joseph's College in Lotopa and at St Paul's College, Auckland in New Zealand. He then obtained a master's from the University of Auckland, becoming the first Samoan to receive a master's degree in Commerce.
Tuilaepa lost two relatives in the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami, including the daughter of one of his nieces. The tsunami destroyed most of Malielegaoi's hometown of Lepa, leaving just the church and the village's welcome-sign standing.
Tuilaepa was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance under Tofilau Eti Alesana following the Human Rights Protection Party's return to power after the coalition government of Va'ai Kolone and Tupua. For a while he was both Prime Minister and Minister of Finance after Tofialu stepped down from the Premiership. However, following a Cabinet reshuffle after the following elections of 2001 in which he led the HRPP for an additional term, Tuilaepa relinquished the post of Minister of Finance to Misa Telefoni Retzlaff who also became the new Deputy Prime Minister.
The reason given for Tuilaepa's relinquishment of the Ministry of Finance was the amount of responsibility and work involved being both Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and to do the job properly required a full-time Minister. Tuilaepa has twice reassigned the Finance portfolio since that time.
Tuilaepa first won election to represent his Lepa district in 1980, after the death of the previous representative. He has been re-elected for Lepa since that time. He served as finance minister in the Tofilau government of 1991 and 1996. In 1991, he was appointed deputy prime minister. In 1998, Tofilau retired from parliament (and hence the prime ministership) due to ill-health. Tuilaepa then became the 6th Prime Minister of Samoa. He has successfully led his HRPP party to re-election in the 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016 general elections. In 2012 Tuilaepa became Samoa's longest serving Prime Minister, surpassing the tenure of his predecessor, Tofilau Eti Alesana. At the time of his electoral defeat in 2021, Tuilaepa was also the second longest serving incumbent prime minister in the world, only behind Cambodia's Hun Sen.
Tuilaepa has emerged as one of Oceania's most vocal critics of Fijian interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who came to power in the 2006 Fijian coup d'état. Tuilaepa has stated that Bainimarama has shown little respect for the opinions of regional Pacific leaders. Tuilaepa has said that Bainimarama's actions since the 2006 coup have shown that Bainimarama has no intentions of returning Fiji to democratic rule or holding transparent, free elections. Tuilaepa cites numerous actions by Bainimarama to back up his criticisms, including rescinding assurances to leaders at a regional meeting in Tonga that elections would be held in May 2008. He has also criticised Bainimarama as a "no-show" at regional meetings of the Pacific Islands Forum in Niue and Papua New Guinea. Tuileapa has said that Bainimarama's failure to compromise, hold democratic elections and meet with regional leaders is not the "Pacific way."
In a February 2009 continuation of the war of words between Bainimarama and Tuilaepa, Bainimarama accused Samoa's foreign policy of being dictated by New Zealand. He also accused Tuilaepa of being "un-Pacific". Tuilaepa fired back, questioning whether Bainimarama was sober when he made these claims and reiterating that Bainimarama shows little respect for Pacific leaders.
In late 2011, Tuilaepa initiated a meeting of Polynesian leaders which led, in November, to the formal launching of the Polynesian Leaders Group, a regional grouping intended to co-operate on a variety of issues including culture and language, education, responses to climate change, and trade and investment. The Group was in part a response to the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
In June 2017, the Samoan Parliament passed a bill to increase support for Christianity in the country's constitution, including a reference to the Trinity. Article 1 of the Samoan Constitution states that "Samoa is a Christian nation founded of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit". According to The Diplomat, "What Samoa has done is shift references to Christianity into the body of the constitution, giving the text far more potential to be used in legal processes." The preamble to the constitution already described the country as "an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions."
Tuilaepa was founder of Apia West Rugby, and is currently chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union. Tuilaepa competed for his country at the 2007 South Pacific Games in the sport of target archery. In participating in the Games, Tuilaepa became the first elected leader to represent his country at a multi-sport event. Having taken up the sport only five months prior to the Games, Tuilaepa was ranked second in Samoa in the combined bow discipline. Tuilaepa's son was also a reserve team member. On day 10 of the Games, Tuilaepa won a silver medal in the mixed recurve team play event.
Tuilaepa has the following Fa'amatai titles.
Tuilaepa's government passed highly controversial legislation in 2009 to switch Samoan road use from right to left-hand traffic. The controversy resulted in a peaceful demonstration which drew more than 15,000 people the largest protest demonstration in Samoan history, and to the founding of the People's Party, a political party established to protest against changing sides.
In 2011, Tuilaepa's government introduced a bill to shift Samoa west of the International Date Line, to facilitate economic relations with Australia, New Zealand and Asia (by ensuring that Samoa would no longer be one calendar day away from them). According to Samoa Observer editor Keni Lesa, many Samoans viewed the bill as "another crazy idea from our crazy prime minister". Opposition politicians also criticised it, arguing that it would not increase exports, and that it would in fact deprive Samoa of "its unique tourism selling point as the last place on earth to see the sun", just east of the Date Line. Tuilaepa responded by calling opposition MP Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi (of the Tautua Samoa Party) "very stupid", adding that "only an idiot" would fail to see the merits of the bill. However, the bill had the support of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and the vast majority of the private and finance sector. The major benefit being that, given that most trade was conducted with New Zealand and Australia, and a growing trade sector with South East and East Asia, that being on the same day as these major trading partners would lead to improvements in productivity, as more trade could be facilitated during a shared five-day week, as opposed to the previous situation of only sharing four week days to conduct business.
A measles outbreak began in September 2019. As of 26 December, there were 5,612 confirmed cases of measles and 81 deaths, out of a Samoan population of 200,874. Over two percent of the population has been infected.
The outbreak has been attributed to a sharp drop in measles vaccination from the previous year. In 2013, 90% of babies in Samoa received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination at one year of age. On 6 July 2018 on the east coast of Savai'i, two 12-month-old children died after receiving MMR vaccinations. The cause of death was incorrect preparation of the vaccine by two nurses who mixed vaccine powder with expired anaesthetic instead of the appropriate diluent. These two deaths were picked up by anti-vaccine groups and used to incite fear towards vaccination on social media. The government stopped its vaccination programme for 10 months, despite advice from the WHO. The incident caused many Samoan residents to lose trust in the healthcare system.
Nevertheless, as of 29 December a public inquiry into the government's role in suspending vaccinations had not been announced. Deputy director of health Gaualofa Matalavea Saaga stated, "Having our case blasted out to the world is the last thing we want." Samoa's political opposition called for the health minister to be removed from his position.
Tuilaepa has been the target of three plots to kill him; one of those being almost successful when in 1999, Eletise Leafa Vitale, tried to kill him but instead one of Tuilaepa's Cabinet Ministers was murdered. In December 2010, another plot was uncovered by Samoan police and, in August 2019, authorities foiled a detailed plan to assassinate him.