The repressive climate that followed a 2006 coup has eased since democratic elections were held in 2014 and 2018. However, the ruling party frequently interferes with opposition activities, the judiciary is subject to political influence, and military and police brutality is a significant problem.
- Throughout the year, the government rejected permits for marches and public demonstrations, citing restrictions on public gatherings implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In June, police shut down protests at the University of the South Pacific. By year’s end, 49 people had tested positive for COVID-19, and 2 people had died, according to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO).
- In May, the opposition Socialist Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) was suspended for a month for allegedly breaching party registration rules, after an internal feud over the leadership of the party split it into two factions. In June, police raided the offices of both major opposition parties, SODELPA and the National Federation Party, allegedly looking for payments related to social media posts.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The prime minister is the head of government. The party that wins the most seats in parliamentary elections selects the prime minister, who is then appointed by the president. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Bainimarama’s FijiFirst Party won 50 percent of the total vote and 27 seats in the 51-member parliament. The Multinational Observer Group reported that the polling “was transparent and credible overall and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”
The president is elected by Parliament, which chooses between two candidates: one named by the prime minister and one by the leader of the opposition. As head of state, the president—who is elected to a three-year term and is eligible for reelection—holds a largely ceremonial role. President George Konrote, from the Polynesian island of Rotuma, was sworn in to a second term in November 2018.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Parliament is Fiji’s unicameral legislative body, with 51 members elected to serve four-year terms. International observers of the 2018 parliamentary elections found polling largely credible, although civil society participation was limited.
Municipal councils continue to be run by government-appointed administrators, having been dissolved in 2009 in the wake of the abrogation of the 1997 constitution. As a result, municipal elections have not been held since 2005.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework for Fijian elections is considered fair. However, the structure of the electoral system has raised concerns about potential political interference. FijiFirst’s secretary general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, serves as minister of elections, as well as attorney general. Opposition parties claim that this creates a bias in the Electoral Commission, which administers elections, and affects the independence of the body.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
The right to form political parties is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government has eligibility requirements that discourage the formation of smaller parties: prospective parties must submit 5,000 signatures to become registered. The 5 percent nationwide threshold for representation in Parliament further disincentivizes the formation of smaller parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
The dominance of FijiFirst in parliament and its popularity with the public has left little space for opposition forces to assert themselves politically. However, the major opposition party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), won 21 seats in 2018, up from 15 in 2014. FijiFirst has used state resources to advance its political campaigns. The Multinational Observer Group noted that during the 2018 parliamentary campaign, government ministers and high-level officials engaged in high-profile activities, such as opening buildings, signing commercial contracts, and disbursing government grants and funds, which could have provided an electoral advantage to FijiFirst.
Opposition figures have been targeted by corruption charges they claim are politically motivated. Before the 2018 election, the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) charged Sitiveni Rabuka with making a false declaration of assets. He was acquitted, but FICAC appealed the decision, and the case was ultimately dismissed two days before the elections in November. Had he been convicted, Rabuka would have been barred from the contest.
In May 2020, SODELPA was suspended for a month for allegedly breaching the party registration rules, after an internal feud over the leadership of the party split it into two factions. In June, Police raided the offices of both major opposition parties, SODELPA and the National Federation Party, allegedly looking for payments related to social media posts.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
The military has a history of interference in Fijian politics. The leaders of the two major political parties are both former military commanders, which contributes to the perception that the military has undue political influence.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The law does not restrict the participation of minorities and women in politics. However, both Indigenous and Indo-Fijian women are underrepresented by political parties. Only 10 out of the 51 members of Parliament are women.
Small minority groups, including Banabans, Chinese, and the descendants of people from the Solomon Islands, lack significant political representation.
Historically, political affiliations have been associated with ethnicity. The Bainimarama government has pushed for a national identity transcending ethnicity, race, and religion.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
The executive branch under Prime Minister Bainimarama determines the policies of government. With FijiFirst holding a strong parliamentary majority, the government has frequently pushed through bills and budgets with minimal scrutiny from the opposition.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Safeguards against corruption are limited in their effectiveness. The FICAC has had limited success combatting institutional corruption. Corruption remains a serious problem. FICAC has also allegedly pursued politically motivated corruption cases. In June and September 2020, FICAC launched corruption investigations into the activities of 10 opposition parliamentarians and one government minister.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Since the restoration of elective democracy in 2014, government transparency and openness has improved. The government now organizes an annual briefing for civil society organizations on the budget. Parliamentary sessions are broadcast live, and the Hansard (an official report of parliamentary proceedings) is updated regularly. Although candidates for elections are required to declare their assets, there is no law requiring public asset disclosures by members of parliament. Fiji lacks an access to information law, and requests for information from the media and the public are sometimes denied. In recent years, FijiFirst has used its parliamentary majority to rewrite parliamentary standing orders in a manner that limits debate on legislation and scrutiny of official statements.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Fiji has an active media sector, with several private television stations, radio stations, and newspapers. The political opposition and other critics of the FijiFirst government have accused the state of using its power to silence critics. For example, the vaguely worded Media Industry Development Decree bans reporting that is critical of the government or harmful to “national interest public order.” Restrictive press laws are sometimes enforced by the government, which leads to self-censorship. In April 2020, Jone Kalouniwai, a senior military officer, defended the government’s right to censor the press during the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is generally respected, though in the past there have been many cases of vandalism of Hindu temples.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is not overtly constrained, but government control over funding has been used to exert influence over tertiary institutions. The University of the South Pacific prohibits the majority of its employees from taking an official position with a political party or running for office. The government withdrew its funding for the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific in September, after the Fijian Attorney General claimed the university’s leadership had engaged in misconduct. Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia had launched an investigation into irregularities under his predecessor, who was known to be close to the Fiji government.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
There were few confirmed reports of the government restricting private discussion on political matters or other sensitive topics during 2020. However, the government places constraints on free speech, such as a law banning the burning of the national flag.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution gives the government wide latitude to prohibit protests, including on the basis of public safety and morality. In 2020, the government rejected permits for marches and public demonstrations, citing restrictions on public gatherings implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In June, police shut down protests at the University of the South Pacific. Fiji has refused entry into the country for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly since 2014.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Fiji has an extensive nongovernmental organization (NGO) network, which largely operates without government interference. Strict sedition laws, which criminalize criticism of the government, place constraints on the range of initiatives that NGOs can undertake. NGOs have been critical of the proposed Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill, which they claim further penalizes criticism of parliament and could further erode civic space.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Restrictions on trade union protests remain. Union members’ political activities are also restricted: they are prohibited from becoming members of Parliament and face obstacles to joining political parties.
In February 2020, government suspended five unions for failing to submit audit reports. General Secretary of the National Workers Union Felix Anthony appeared in court in February and again in August over his activities during a 2019 protest by water authority workers. Amnesty International reported a rise in harassment of trade unionists in the leadup to these protests and other important union meetings.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
While the constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, there have been credible allegations of political interference among judges. The prime minister has substantial appointment powers, with the authority to both appoint and dismiss judges on the Supreme Court and other high courts. These powers leave the judiciary vulnerable to interference and abuse by the executive. Fiji has refused entry into the country for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges since 2014.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process rights are often not respected in practice. Corruption is a major problem in the police force. Due to resource shortages, lengthy pretrial detentions are common. The law allows suspects to be arrested without a warrant for violating the Crimes Decree. Politically motivated criminal charges are not uncommon.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Torture and beatings by police remain a serious issue. Police officers and military officials who commit abuses are rarely brought to justice, and those who are convicted of crimes are frequently pardoned or have their convictions overturned on appeal. Prisons are often overcrowded, lack sanitation, and provide inadequate health services. Fiji refuses entry into the country for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture. In May 2020, four former prison officers seeking asylum in Australia claimed that the commissioner of the Corrections Service, Francis Kean, was responsible for a culture of violence and intimidation inside Fiji’s prisons. That same month, opposition parliamentarian Pio Tikoduadua was arrested for posting a video showing police throwing a man off a bridge. The director of public prosecutions declined to press charges against Tikoduadua. Nine police officers were subsequently suspended.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
LGBT+ people face discrimination in employment and access to healthcare. Prime Minister Bainimarama has been criticized for making prejudiced remarks against LGBT+ people, and declared in August 2019 that, so long as FijiFirst remained in power, same-sex marriage would remain outlawed. Fiji Rugby Union chair Francis Kean withdrew his nomination to the World Rugby Council in April 2020 after recordings emerged of his homophobic comments while he oversaw Fiji’s prisons.
Women experience discrimination in employment as well, and a gender pay gap persists.
Relations between Indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians remain strained. Indigenous Fijians previously enjoyed legal advantages in education and political representation. However, the interim government installed after the 2006 coup removed many of these privileges in a bid to foster a sense of national unity.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens enjoy the freedom to travel, live, work, and seek education inside and outside the country. However, the law gives the government broad powers to restrict both internal and foreign travel. The government did not utilize the law to impose any new restrictions on travel in 2020.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Property rights are generally respected. However, it is difficult to obtain land titles. The government amended the Land Sales Act in 2014 to require foreign nationals who fail to build a dwelling on their land within two years of acquisition to pay a fine equivalent to 10 percent of the land value every six months. Under the law, urban residential freehold land cannot be sold to foreigners.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Domestic violence remains a problem in Fiji, and perpetrators who are convicted of the crime often receive light sentences. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Center warns that there was a spike in domestic violence cases during the government’s lockdown, implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Although there is a growing movement in support of marriage equality in Fiji, Prime Minister Bainimarama has openly stated he does not support it.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Sex trafficking of children remained a problem in 2020, and the government was ineffective in addressing it. The US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report found no improvement in Fiji’s record on human trafficking during the year. In July, reports of an 11-year-old victim of sex trafficking emerged. Safety standards at workplaces are not always adequately enforced. Long work hours are common in some jobs, including transportation and shipping.
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Global Freedom Score60 100 partly free