Samoa's statesman: Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi

As the island nation celebrates 50 years of independence, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi talks to Terry Dunleavy about his country's political learning curve.

Time has been precious this week for Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi.

He's been busy in the run-up to the five-day celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the island state's independence, which began with a church service on Thursday evening.

He returned early Tuesday morning from an official visit to Japan, and a caucus meeting with his parliamentary colleagues in the governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) went past the 4pm time allocated to me for my exclusive interview with him for the Weekend Herald.

But I was happy to agree to share it with an interviewer from Australia's ABC television.

After we'd finished, my Aussie colleague, ABC TV's South Pacific specialist, on his 10th visit to Samoa after 17 years in Port Moresby, told me: "That guy runs rings around any other Pacific island leader."

I ask Tuilaepa about the stability of Samoa in recent years, compared with the troubles that have befallen other South Pacific island states. Without hesitation, he ascribes it to the emergence of political parties.

"Immediately after independence in 1962, governments had to proceed with great care and caution. Up to the time of Tupuola Efi [who was Prime Minister in 1976-82, and is now Head of State, as Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Tufua Tupuola Efi], we didn't have a party system, and development was slow because of the extreme caution as we were learning how to rule.


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