The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a relatively stable democracy that holds regular, competitive elections. However, secessionist movements have sometimes unsettled the country’s politics and threatened its unity. The judiciary is independent, and civil liberties are generally respected. Ongoing problems include underreporting of domestic violence and the exploitation of migrant workers.
- In March, Senator David Panuelo was named president by the newly elected Congress, replacing incumbent Peter Christian.
- The independence referendum for the state of Chuuk scheduled for March 2019 was postponed until 2020.
- Micronesian government official Master Halbert, the son-in-law of former president Christian, was arrested for money laundering in February, as well as taking bribes for the allocation of government contracts.
- In October, the acting attorney general on Yap, American Rachelle Bergeron, was killed in her backyard. Her murder was allegedly connected to her work cracking down on human trafficking on the islands.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The FSM president is both chief of state and head of government and receives assistance from the vice president. Both offices are indirectly elected for four-year terms by members of Congress, with candidates from among the legislature’s four at-large state representatives, known as senators, who are directly elected by the population. In March 2019, David Panuelo, the senator representing the state of Pohnpei, was chosen as president, defeating incumbent Peter Christian. Yosiwo George, the senator for Kosrae, was elected vice president.
Each of the four states (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae) also has its own elected governor.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 14-member Congress, Micronesia’s unicameral legislature, consists of 4 senators, one from each state, elected to serve four-year terms, and 10 members elected for two-year terms in single-member districts that are allocated according to population. Each state also has its own elected legislature.
In March 2019, the FSM held full congressional elections. The incumbent president, Peter Christian, lost his seat to David Panuelo, the senator from Pohnpei. The senators from the three other states are Yosiwo George from Kosrae (named vice president), Wesley Simina from Chuuk, and Joseph Urusemal from Yap. There were no reports of fraud or irregularities in the election’s administration. A majority of voters also approved the country’s fourth Constitutional Convention, which was set to convene in January 2020.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Elections in Micronesia, which are generally considered free and fair, are administered by a government agency headed by a national election director and one commissioner from each state. Constitutional amendments must be approved by three-quarters of voters in at least three of the four states.
|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?||4.004 4.004|
There are no formal political parties, but there are no restrictions on their formation. All candidates run as independents.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The country has an established record of democratic power transfers. Under an informal agreement, the presidency has typically rotated among the four states, but Congress has sometimes chosen to deviate from this pattern.
|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?||4.004 4.004|
Traditional leaders and institutions exercise significant influence in society, especially at the village level. However, neither these nor donor countries like the United States and China exert undue control over the political choices of voters or candidates. Investments from United States and China have been met with pushback in recent years, as citizens are concerned about how those funds might impinge upon the FSM’s political, economic, and cultural independence.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Women and minority groups formally have full political rights, and they are free to participate in practice, though women’s political engagement is limited to some extent by discriminatory attitudes. The FSM remains one of the few countries in the world with no women in its national legislature after the 2019 election. A small number of women were elected to state-level legislatures.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials determine and implement policy and legislation at the federal level, though considerable authority is vested in the states and their elected governments. Some leading politicians from Chuuk, by far the most populous state, have advocated independence from the FSM in recent years, and the issue remained a topic of public discussion under the guidance of the Chuuk Political Status Commission. Opponents of Chuuk’s secession have argued that its separation from the FSM would be unconstitutional, and the independence referendum that was planned for March 2019 was delayed a year, specifically to determine whether such a vote would have constitutional validity. In August 2018, Robert Riley, the US ambassador to the FSM, warned against the state’s independence, asserting that an independent Chuuk would lose US funds. In response to Riley’s statements, critics accused the ambassador of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
The FSM relies on defense guarantees and economic assistance from the United States under a 1986 Compact of Free Association, which extends through 2023. In May 2019, the funding and security commitments of the Compact of Free Association were reaffirmed by the United States. China has also become an increasingly important partner for trade and development aid in recent years, though its role does not amount to an undue interference in FSM governance, and citizens and officials have been wary of it becoming so.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Official corruption is a problem and a source of public discontent. Complaints about misuse of public resources are frequent, particularly from US authorities overseeing aid funds. Government entities responsible for combating corruption, including the attorney general’s office and public auditor, are independent and fairly effective, though some corrupt officials reportedly enjoy impunity. Former president Peter Christian’s son-in-law, Master Halbert, a public official, was convicted of money laundering and taking bribes (the former President was not personally implicated). Halbert was identified in the prosecution of James Lyon, a Hawaiian engineering firm owner, and allegedly took bribes with another (unnamed) FSM government official to award Lyon with over $7.8 million in government contracts.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Government operations and legislative processes are generally transparent, though there is no comprehensive law guaranteeing public access to government information. Limited technical capacity and the country’s sprawling geography pose practical barriers to openness and accountability in the FSM. Officials are not legally obliged to submit asset disclosures.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
The news media operate freely. Print outlets include government-published newsletters and several small, privately owned weekly and monthly newspapers. There are a number of radio stations, cable television is available, and satellite television is increasingly common. More than a third of the population has internet access.
Lack of resources is a problem for the broadcasting of important meteorological forecasts for the population of Chuuk, whose government requested more federal funding for radio broadcasting on the island in August 2019. As sea levels rise, and extreme weather events become more common, providing a 24-hour radio service is important for island residents, especially the elderly; Chuuk comprises over 50 percent of Micronesia’s total population. In 2019, the only radio station, which is owned by the Chuuk government, ran from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In March 2019, several members of the Yap Council of Chiefs, a body charged with overseeing matters of tradition and culture on the island, demanded the Yap state legislature expel journalist Joyce McClure as a person non grata. The council claimed McClure was disruptive to the state’s safety and social environment for writing misleading news articles. McClure has stated that she believes this request came after she shared posts on Facebook critical of Chinese presence and influence on the island. The Yap legislature rejected the demands of the council in May.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected, and religious groups are not required to register with the government. About 99 percent of the population is Christian. A small Ahmadi Muslim community has reported some instances of discrimination and vandalism and intolerance for non-Christian religions in several of states is a growing concern.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
There were no reports of restrictions on academic freedom in 2019.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and there are no significant constraints on this right in practice. The government does not improperly monitor personal communications or social media activity.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is protected by the constitution, and demonstrations typically proceed peacefully.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Citizens are free to organize in civic groups, and a number of students’ and women’s organizations are active.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Union rights are generally respected, and there are no laws to prevent workers from forming unions, engaging in collective bargaining, or striking. However, such activities are not specifically protected or regulated by law, and few employers are large enough to support unionization in practice.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent. The chief justice, who administers the judicial system, and the associate justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president with the approval of a two-thirds majority in Congress. They are appointed for life-long terms and cannot be removed arbitrarily.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The police respect legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, and defendants are generally provided with basic due process guarantees surrounding trials and appeals. However, a shortage of lawyers may sometimes impair detainees’ access to counsel in practice.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
There were no reports of physical abuse or inhumane treatment by police or prison officials in 2019. Criminal activity does not pose a major threat to physical security, though police have struggled to deal with illegal fishing.
In October 2019, the acting attorney general on Yap, American Rachelle Bergeron, was killed in her backyard. Her murder was allegedly connected to her work cracking down on human trafficking on the islands.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution gives citizens equal protection under the law and prohibits discrimination based on race, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, language, or social status. In November 2018, Congress passed a landmark law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, which President Christian signed the next month. However, the law did not mention gender identity, leaving transgender people vulnerable to continued discrimination. In December 2018, a senator from Yap introduced a bill in Congress that would ban transgender people from employment in the federal government. No apparent action was taken by Congress or the president in 2019.
Half as many women enjoy formal employment as do men, and women generally participate far less in the formal and informal labor markets.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is generally respected. Under the Compact of Free Association, Micronesians are free to travel to the United States without visas for residence, education, and employment. Many Micronesians have migrated to US Pacific states or territories such as Hawaii and Guam.
|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 protected by law, and individuals are able to operate private businesses; most such enterprises are small and family-owned in practice. However, property and business rights are somewhat restricted for foreigners. Noncitizens are legally prohibited from owning land, and a number of regulations limit the kinds of businesses that they can own and operate.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Personal social freedoms are largely protected. However, there are no specific laws against spousal rape, and both rape and domestic violence are rarely prosecuted due to societal inhibitions against reporting such crimes.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Forced labor is prohibited, and the government enforces basic standards for working conditions in the formal sector. Foreign migrant workers nevertheless remain vulnerable to exploitative labor practices, including on foreign fishing vessels in FSM waters, and some Micronesian women are reportedly trafficked for sexual exploitation. The US State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report noted that Micronesia had increased efforts to prosecute human traffickers, but it nevertheless remained a pervasive problem in the country, and victim-identification and protection services were limited. In October 2019, the Yap state acting attorney general, Rachelle Bergeron, was shot and killed, allegedly in connection with her work cracking down on human trafficking ring on the island.
In March 2019, a Supreme Court judge convicted two men of human trafficking and sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced them to almost eight years imprisonment.
In September 2019, the FSM government requested the US State Department launch an investigation into an American meatpacking company in Iowa that had allegedly been trafficking and abusing Micronesian workers.
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