|7th Prime Minister of Samoa|
23 November 1998
|O le Ao o le Malo||
Malietoa Tanumafili II|
Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II
|Tofilau Eti Alesana|
14 April 1945|
|Political party||Human Rights Protection Party|
|Spouse(s)||Gillian Muriel Malielegaoi|
|Alma mater||University of Auckland|
Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi (born 14 April 1945) is a Samoan politician who has been Prime Minister of Samoa since 1998.
Born at Lepa, Samoa, Malielegaoi is an economist by profession. He attended high school at St Joseph's College in Lotopa and at St Paul's College, Auckland; he then obtained a master's from the University of Auckland, becoming the first Samoan to receive a master's degree in commerce.
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 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 1996, 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.
Malielegaoi lost two relatives in the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami, including the daughter of one of his nieces. Most of Malielegaoi's hometown of Lepa, Samoa, was destroyed in the tsunami, leaving just the church and the village's welcome sign standing.
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.
Tuilaepa's government has passed highly controversial legislation 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 three-week days to conduct business.
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.
Tuilaepa competed for his country at the 2007 South Pacific Games in the sport of target archery. In participating in the Games, the Prime Minister 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. The Prime Minister's son was also a reserve team member.
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."