The repressive climate that followed a 2006 coup has eased, with democratic elections held in 2014 and 2018, and a peaceful transfer of power following 2022 elections. 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.
- In December, a general election resulted in a coalition of three opposition parties forming a government. Sitiveni Rabuka of the People’s Alliance Party (PAP) was elected prime minister, taking over from Frank Bainimarama, who had held the post since 2006. Bainimarama, of the FijiFirst Party, became leader of the opposition.
- In September, Parliament passed a controversial Electoral (Amendment) Bill, which increased the powers of the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) and established binding rules for the conduct of opinion polls.
|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 December 2022 parliamentary elections, the ruling FijiFirst Party and a coalition of two opposition parties, the PAP and the National Federation Party (NFP), each won 26 seats. The balance, 3 seats in the 55-member parliament, was won by the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA). After some equivocation, SODELPA decided to join the opposition coalition to form a government, the first that would not be led by Frank Bainimarama since he had taken power in a 2006 coup. Sitiveni Rabuka, head of the PAP, was elected by a secret ballot of members of parliament days later, 28 votes to 27.
In an interim press statement before the conclusion of the count, the Multinational Observer Group reported that they “did not observe any significant irregularities or issues during pre-polling, postal voting or Election Day voting.” Opposition leaders had raised allegations of irregularities after a glitch in the official elections office app forced a pause in vote counting.
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.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Parliament is Fiji’s unicameral legislative body, with 55 members elected to serve four-year terms. International observers of the 2018 and 2022 parliamentary elections found polling largely credible, although civil society participation was limited. The country uses an open list proportional representation system with a single, nationwide constituency; candidates are represented only by numbers on ballot papers.
Municipal elections have not been held since 2005. Municipal councils were dissolved in 2009 and have since been run by government-appointed administrators.
|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. Until December 2022, FijiFirst’s secretary general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, served as minister of elections as well as attorney general.
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.
Following Nawaikula’s reinstatement, the FijiFirst majority in Parliament passed an amendment to the Electoral Act in September 2021 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. In December 2021, seven women brought a case before the High Court alleging discrimination against women occasioned by the amendment. The government that came to power in December 2022 promised to reverse this requirement.
Other 2021 and 2022 amendments to the electoral law increase the powers of the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) significantly. The Law Council of Australia warned that the 2022 amendment gives the SoE "extraordinarily broad information gathering powers without adequate safeguards or oversight mechanisms.”
|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, Rabuka, who had formerly led the SODELPA, successfully registered a new party, the PAP, that would become part of the ruling coalition in December 2022.
In July 2021, 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 2021.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||2.002 4.004|
For many years, the dominance of FijiFirst in Parliament left little space for opposition forces to assert themselves politically. The victory of the opposition in the December 2022 polls demonstrates that, despite all the advantages of incumbency, the electoral framework allowed the rise of an opposition that could defeat the FijiFirst government. Bainimarama stepped aside and became the leader of the opposition, despite having said in the past that he would not allow opposition parties to assume office in the event that FijiFirst was defeated. The military commander, Major General Jone Logavatu Kalouniwai, has promised to abide by the election result.
In the lead-up to the December 2022 election, the government targeted many opposition figures with accusations of corruption, breach of election law, and other wrongdoing. In one case, in September 2022, the SoE referred a "Rock the Vote" organization affiliated with Member of Parliament Lynda Tabuya of the PAP to the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) for an alleged breach of the Political Parties Registration Act.
In 2022, three former SODELPA members of Parliament were given prison sentences of two to three years for obtaining parliamentary allowances by stating that their permanent place of residence was in their home village when they in fact resided in the capital, Suva.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because an opposition party successfully formed a coalition government after the December elections, displacing a long-serving incumbent prime minister.
|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 2013 constitution provides that “it shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians,” but the military has a history of interference in Fijian politics. Several prominent political leaders, including both Bainimarama and Rabuka, are former military commanders, which contributes to the perception that the military has undue political influence.
In the immediate aftermath of the December 2022 election, the commissioner of police, Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho, citing claims of impending ethnic unrest and tension, called for a deployment of the RFMF in Suva. The RFMF accepted the call, but the military commander repeatedly promised to abide by the election result.
|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 6 out of the 55 members of Parliament are women following the 2022 elections. A law passed under Bainimarama requiring voters to register using the name on their birth certificates disproportionately affects women. The Rabuka government has promised to reverse that law.
Small minority groups, including Banabans, members of the Chinese ethnic minority, and the descendants of people from the Solomon Islands, lack significant political representation.
|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 the prime minister determines the policies of government. With the 2022 elections resulting in a transfer of power and a relatively evenly divided Parliament, legislators may have a greater role in consulting on legislation than they did when FijiFirst held a strong parliamentary majority.
|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 allegedly been used to pursue politically motivated cases, such as against opposition politicians or their supporters. The PAP made a campaign pledge to abolish FICAC, but the commission is stipulated in the 2013 constitution.
|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. A review of standing orders by the incoming government is set to begin in January 2023.
The 2013 Constitution was decreed into law prior to the first post–2006 coup elections in 2014, and after minimal public consultation. It cannot be changed without the support of 75 percent of all registered voters in a referendum and 75 percent of Parliament, though the method of its adoption without public consent could be subjected to judicial review.
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.”
|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 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 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.
The Electoral (Amendment) Bill passed in September 2022 established rules for the publication of opinion polls and steep penalties for not complying with those rules that media and civil society organizations described as onerous and chilling.
The Rabuka government has promised to ease restraints on the media.
|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.
|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 FijiFirst government continued in 2022 to withhold funding for the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific (USP) on the grounds that 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. Though the government deported Ahluwalia, a Canadian citizen, in February 2021, he now runs the university from neighboring Samoa while living in exile. In December 2022, days after Rabuka was sworn in as prime minister, he invited Ahluwalia to return to Fiji and promised to restore the funds owed to USP by the 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|
The government places some constraints on free speech, such as a law banning the burning of the national flag. In July 2021, the acting police commissioner warned the public to be cautious when expressing opposition to Bill 17 on social media.
In September 2022, lawyer and prospective opposition candidate Richard Naidu, a vociferous critic of the government, was found guilty of contempt and “scandalizing the court” after he pointed out on Facebook that a High Court judge misspelled the word “injunction" as "injection.” The sentencing is scheduled for January 2023.
|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.
|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. In May 2022, Bainimarama criticized two of Fiji’s longstanding NGOs—the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND)—calling them political opposition groups rather than NGOs after the organizations voiced support for a nonpartisan caretaker government to see the country through the December elections.
|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.
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 2021 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.
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 at the time 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.
|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. In May 2022, there was widespread criticism after a video circulated on social media showing a police officer apparently assaulting a bus driver during an arrest.
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.
Crime is a major problem, exacerbated by a significant methamphetamine trade.
|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. Bainimarama was 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.
|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.
|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. According to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center, there was a spike in domestic violence cases during the government’s lockdown in 2020, implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is a growing movement in support of marriage equality in Fiji. A transgender woman, Divina Loloma, contested the December 2022 general election for the NFP.
|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 2022. The US State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report reported that Fiji “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” However, trafficking convictions remain rare, with only two 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 Score59 100 partly free