O le Ao o le Malo

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Head of State of the
Independent State of
O le Ao Mamalu o le Malo o le Malo Saʻoloto Tutoʻatasi o Sāmoa
Coat of arms of Samoa.svg
Flag of Samoa.svg
Va'aleto'a Sualauvi II Feb 2018 (cropped).jpg
Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II

since 21 July 2017
StyleHis Highness
TypeHead of state
AppointerLegislative Assembly
Term lengthFive years, renewable once[2]
Constituting instrumentConstitution of Samoa
Inaugural holder
Formation1 January 1962; 60 years ago (1962-01-01)
DeputyMembers of the Council of Deputies
SalaryUS$82,000 annually[3]

The O le Ao Mamalu o le Malo (Samoan for "Head of State")[a] is the head of state of Samoa. The position is described in Part III of the 1960 Samoan constitution.[4] At the time the constitution was adopted, it was anticipated that future heads of state would be chosen from among the four Tama a 'Aiga "matai" paramount chiefs in line with customary protocol. This is not a constitutional requirement, so Samoa can be considered a parliamentary republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. The government Press Secretariat describes Head of State as a "ceremonial president". The holder is given the formal style of Highness, as are the heads of the four paramount chiefly dynasties.

Members of the Council of Deputies act as deputy heads of state, standing in for the head of state when they are unable to fulfil their duties.

The current O le Ao o le Malo is Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II, who was elected to a five-year term which started on 21 July 2017.

History of the office[edit]

When Samoa became independent on 1 January 1962, the 1960 Constitution jointly named two of the four paramount chiefs (Tama a 'Aiga) to the office for life:[5] Tanumafili II and Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole. They represented, respectively, the Malietoa and Tupua Tamasese, the "two of the four main family lineages" of Samoa.[6] They were jointly known as O Ao o le Malo and individually as O le Ao o le Malo.[4] Mea'ole died a year later in 1963, leaving Tanumafili as the sole holder of the office until his death in 2007, aged 94.[7][8] His replacement, Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Efi, had served two prior terms as Prime Minister and is the elder son of Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole. He was elected by the Samoan Legislative Assembly for a five-year term beginning on 20 June 2007[9] and again in July 2012 for a further five-year term. The 4th and current Head of State, Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aleto'a Eti Sualauvi II, the great grandson of Mau Movement leader Tuimaleali'ifano Fa'aoloi'i and nephew of the original member of the Council of Deputies Tuimaleali'ifano Suatipatipa II,[10] succeeded Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi after election by the Legislative Assembly for a five-year term on 30 June 2017 when Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi's term was nearing its end.[11][12]

In 2019, the Samoan government amended the constitution, introducing term limits for the head of state. Once a head of state has completed their first five-year term, they are only eligible for reappointment once. Thus each head of state is permitted to serve for a maximum of ten years.[2]

The official residence of the head of state was the former home of writer Robert Louis Stevenson, until it was damaged in cyclones in the 1990s; the building subsequently became the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.[13]

In November 2021, the Samoan government announced that it was considering an amendment to make the office of the O le Ao o le Malo a lifetime appointment. This suggestion was part of a review of the constitution.[14]


Article 18 of the Samoan constitution sets the qualifications for the position of Head of State. He must:

  • be qualified for election as a member of parliament;
  • possess such qualifications as the Fono may determine by resolution;
  • not have previously been removed from the office on the grounds of misbehavior or infirmity.[4]

Term of office[edit]

The Head of State is elected by the Fono for five years and can be re-elected once. The exceptions to this were Tanumafili and Meaʻole, who were exempted from the five-year term laid down by Article 19.[4] A 2019 amendment to the constitution states that the Head of State can serve no more than two terms.[2] There was an understanding that the office is to alternate between the four tama aiga families, of which the most recently elected Head of State belongs to the Tuimaleali'ifano clan, one of the four paramount chiefs alongside the Mataʻafa (a vacant chieftaincy since 2014).[6]

Removal from office can occur in four ways:

  • resignation;
  • removal by the Fono on the grounds of misbehavior or mental or physical infirmity;
  • approval by two-thirds of the Fono of a resolution for removal that is proposed and supported by at least a fourth of its members following at least fourteen days between the notice of motion and debate on the motion;[4]
  • death.

Duties and powers[edit]

The position is that of a ceremonial Head of State, while actual power is held by the Prime Minister, whom the Head of State appoints on the recommendation of the Fono. While the Head of State "does not play an active role in government", he can dissolve the Fono and no act of parliament will become law without his approval.[15] The Head of State may also grant pardons.[16]


To date, there have been three elections for the office of Head of State. The first was held on 16 June 2007, in which Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Efi was elected unopposed by the 49-member strong parliament. The second was held on 19 July 2012, in which Efi was nominated by Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and seconded by Palusalue Faʻapo II, the leader of the opposition. The third was held on 30 June 2017, in which Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II was elected over Efi by a majority vote of 23 to 15.[17]

List of officeholders[edit]

  •   Denotes acting O le Ao o le Malo
  • † Died in office
No. Portrait Name
Election Term of office Political party Prime minister(s)
Took office Left office Time in office
1 Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole 1962 (cropped).jpg Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole
1 January 1962 5 April 1963 † 1 year, 94 days Independent Mulinuʻu II
Malietoa Tanumafili II (cropped).jpg Malietoa Tanumafili II
1 January 1962 11 May 2007 † 45 years, 130 days Independent Mulinuʻu II
Lealofi IV
Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi 00 (cropped).jpg Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Efi
(born 1938)
Member of the Council of Deputies
11 May 2007 20 June 2007 40 days Independent Tuila'epa
Va'aleto'a Sualauvi II Feb 2018 (cropped).jpg Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II
(born 1947)
Member of the Council of Deputies
11 May 2007 20 June 2007 40 days Independent
2 Tufuga Efe 2013.jpg Tui Ātua Tupua Tamasese Efi
(born 1938)[d]
2007 20 June 2007 21 July 2017 10 years, 31 days Independent Tuila'epa
3 Va'aleto'a Sualauvi II Feb 2018 (cropped).jpg Tuimalealiʻifano Vaʻaletoʻa Sualauvi II
(born 1947)
2017 21 July 2017[18] Incumbent 4 years, 297 days Independent Tuila'epa


  1. ^ Ao is a title generally reserved for chiefs (matai), while malo means "government"
  2. ^ Elected for Life. Served jointly with Tanumafili II.
  3. ^ Elected for Life. Served jointly with Meaʻole to 5 April 1963.
  4. ^ Son of Meaʻole.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ $600,000 residence for Head of State re-opens, SAMOA
  2. ^ a b c "Parliament reduces Head of State's term to ten years". Samoa Observer. 17 February 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  3. ^ Hill, Bruce (28 September 2016). "Samoan leaders salaries published by newspaper". ABC Radio Australia.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Constitution of the Independent State of Western Samoa 1960". University of the South Pacific. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  5. ^ Hassall, Graham & Saunders, Cheryl (2002). Asia-Pacific Constitutional Systems. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-521-59129-5.
  6. ^ a b New Zealand Herald (28 June 2007). "Name says it all for Samoa's new leader". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  7. ^ "Samoan king dies at the age of 94". The Sydney Morning Herald. 13 May 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2007.
  8. ^ Jackson, Cherelle (13 May 2007). "Samoa's Head of State Malietoa dies aged 95". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  9. ^ New Zealand Herald (16 June 2007). "New head of state for Samoa". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 June 2007.
  10. ^ "TUIMALEALI'IFANO". members.iinet.net.au. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  11. ^ "New head of state for Samoa". Radio NZ. Archived from the original on 4 July 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aleto'a Sualauvi II, is Samoa's fourth Head of State". Samoa Observer. 5 July 2017. Archived from the original on 26 February 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Robert Louis Stevenson Museum". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  14. ^ "Samoa's Head of State could be appointed for life". RNZ. 4 November 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  15. ^ Kogan Page; World of information (2003). Asia and Pacific Review 2003/04, 21st edition. Essex, England: Walden Publishing Ltd. p. 41. ISBN 0-7494-4063-5.
  16. ^ eDiplomat.com. "Samoa". Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  17. ^ Samoa’s parliament reappoints Tui Atua as head of state Radio New Zealand International, 19 July 2012.
  18. ^ Samoa Planet

External links[edit]