Fiji

Partly Free
58
100
PR Political Rights 23 40
CL Civil Liberties 35 60
Last Year's Score & Status
60 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

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.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • In September, the FijiFirst majority in Parliament passed an amendment to the Electoral Act requiring citizens to use the name “specified on the applicant’s birth certificate” when registering to vote. The opposition criticized the law, saying that it will disproportionately affect women voters whose birth names differ from their marital names.
  • Nine leading opposition figures were detained and questioned by police in July after voicing opposition to Bill 17, a controversial draft law that would alter how native land leases are administered by the iTaukei Land Trust Board; the bill was passed into law in August.
  • In February, the government forcibly deported Pal Ahluwalia, a Canadian citizen and then vice chancellor of the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific (USP). Ahluwalia had faced pushback the previous year for launching an investigation into financial management irregularities under his predecessor, who was known to be close to the Fiji government.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 Frank 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 for a three-year term and holds a largely ceremonial role. In October 2021, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere was elected president, replacing former president George Konrote.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 elections have not been held since 2005. Municipal councils were dissolved in 2009 and have since been run by government-appointed administrators.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 4.004

The legal framework for Fijian elections is considered fair. However, the structure of the electoral administration 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.

A July 2021 decision by the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, removed opposition parliamentarian Niko Nawaikula from the voter registry on the grounds that he had not registered under his birth name. Nawaikula was forced to vacate his seat, but was reinstated in August by Fiji’s chief justice, who criticized Saneem for overextending his authority. Sayed-Khaiyum expressed frustration that the government’s lawyers had not successfully defended Saneem’s decision; the solicitor general was suspended shortly thereafter, and was fired in November.

Following Nawaikula’s reinstatement, the FijiFirst majority in Parliament passed an amendment to the Electoral Act in September requiring citizens to use the name “specified on the applicant’s birth certificate” on the voter registry. The opposition has expressed concern that the rule will disproportionately affect women voters whose birth names differ from their marital names.

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because new amendments to the electoral law introduced onerous voter registration requirements.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. In September 2021, Sitiveni Rabuka, the former leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), successfully registered a new party, The People’s Alliance.

In July, nine leading opposition figures were detained and questioned by police after voicing opposition to Bill 17, a controversial draft law that would alter how native land leases are administered by the iTaukei Land Trust Board; the bill was passed into law in August.

In April, the Supervisor of Elections briefly suspended three minor parties, all without seats in Parliament, for allegedly failing to submit their audited accounts on time. Two of the parties were reinstated later that month, but the third had not been reinstated by year’s end.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 has left little space for opposition forces to assert themselves politically. In 2018, the major opposition party, SODELPA, won 21 seats, up from 15 in 2014. 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. Prime Minister Bainimarama has, in the past, stated that he would not allow the opposition parties to assume office in the event that FijiFirst was defeated.

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 then SODELPA leader Rabuka with making a false declaration of assets. He was acquitted, but FICAC appealed the decision; the case was ultimately dismissed two days before the elections. Had he been convicted, Rabuka would have been barred from the contest.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. Several prominent political leaders, including Prime Minister Bainimarama, are former military commanders, which contributes to the perception that the military has undue political influence.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, members of the Chinese ethnic minority, and the descendants of people from the Solomon Islands, lack significant political representation.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 legislation with minimal scrutiny from the opposition.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption remains a serious problem, and existing safeguards are limited in their effectiveness. FICAC has had limited success combatting institutional corruption. FICAC has also allegedly pursued politically motivated corruption cases.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. 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.

The head of Fiji’s Bureau of Statistics, Kemueli Naiqama, was dismissed in September 2021 for publishing data on ethnicity in the 2019-2020 Household Income and Expenditure Survey. The Attorney General questioned the reliability of the data, which showed that the majority of people experiencing poverty in the country are Indigenous Fijians. Local human rights organizations have expressed concern that Naiqama was fired “for telling the truth.”

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. 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, and the risk of fines and jail time encourages self-censorship.

In April 2020, Jone Kalouniwai, a senior military officer—who in 2021 became the country’s top military commander—defended the government’s right to censor the press during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2021, a former government advisor reported that the Attorney General regularly tells the openly progovernment newspaper The Fiji Sun which stories to cover. Nevertheless, there has been a notable increase in articles critical of government in the national media in recent years.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. In July 2021, there were reports of arson attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned shops on the island of Taveuni and in Labasa.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2.002 4.004

Academic freedom is not directly constrained, but government control over funding has been used to exert influence over tertiary institutions. The government withdrew its funding for the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific (USP) in 2020 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. The government deported Ahluwalia, a Canadian citizen, in February 2021.

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the government forcibly deported an academic official who had made accusations of financial mismanagement against the university where he worked.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

The government places some constraints on free speech, such as a law banning the burning of the national flag. Political activist Ben Padarath was arrested and charged with sedition in March 2021 for publishing a social media post critical of a FICAC investigation. In July, the acting police commissioner warned the public to be cautious when expressing opposition to Bill 17 on social media.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. Fiji has refused entry into the country for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly since 2014.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. However, strict sedition laws, which criminalize criticism of the government, place constraints on the range of initiatives that NGOs can undertake.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Restrictions on trade union protests remain. The Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) has been denied permits for marches numerous times in recent years, including in April 2021, when a further such permit was rejected, allegedly due to concern about the spread of COVID-19.

Union members’ political activities are also restricted: they are prohibited from becoming members of Parliament and face obstacles to joining political parties. General secretary of the National Workers Union and the FTUC, Felix Anthony, appeared in court in April and November 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.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

The Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, passed by Parliament in February 2021, removed assessors—lay judicial advisors—from trials, leaving verdicts in criminal cases solely to judges. Though the Attorney General claimed the assessor system had contributed to discrimination based on ethnicity in court decisions, opposition leaders criticized the amendments, saying that removing assessors eliminates public participation and reduces transparency in the criminal justice system.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 March 2021, the government unexpectedly withdrew a controversial bill that would have given sweeping additional powers to the police.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

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.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. Substantial restrictions on movement were imposed in 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 in 2020, 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.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Human trafficking, including sex trafficking of children, remained a problem in 2021. The US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report reported that Fiji had increased its efforts to fight human trafficking in 2020, including pursuing investigations of 10 suspected trafficking cases and formally endorsing a national antitrafficking strategy for 2021–26. However, trafficking convictions remain rare, with only one recorded in the country since 2014. 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 Score

    58 100 partly free