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 February, a referendum on independence for the state of Chuuk was delayed to 2022.
- A constitutional convention was convened in January but went into recess in March due to COVID-19 mitigation measures.
- President David Panuelo declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in January and individuals who had traveled to China were prohibited from entering the FSM that month. All four states halted inbound travel by March. While outbound restrictions ended in November, a ban on inbound travel persisted through year’s end. No cases or deaths were reported in 2020.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 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, directly elected state representatives, known as senators. In March 2019, David Panuelo, the senator representing the state of Pohnpei, was chosen as president, defeating incumbent Peter Christian. Vice President Yosiwo George was reelected.
Each of the four states (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae) has its own elected governor.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 14-member unicameral Congress includes 4 senators, 1 from each state, who serve four-year terms and are elected by proportional representation. Another 10 members serve two-year terms in single-member districts allocated by population. Each state also has its own elected legislature.
In March 2019, the FSM held full congressional elections. Incumbent president Christian lost his post to Panuelo. The senators from the three other states are Vice President George from Kosrae, Wesley Simina from Chuuk, and Joseph Urusemal from Yap. There were no reports of fraud or irregularities in the election’s administration. Voters also approved the FSM’s fourth Constitutional Convention, which was convened in January 2020 but went into recess in March due to COVID-19.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Elections in the FSM, 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 FSM 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 deviated 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, racial, 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. 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. A referendum was planned for 2019, but was delayed that year and again in February 2020; it is now scheduled for 2022.
The FSM relies on defense guarantees and economic assistance from the United States under a 1986 Compact of Free Association (CoFA), which extends through 2023. In 2019, the funding and security commitments of the CoFA were reaffirmed by the United States.
China has 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. In late 2019, China pledged $72 million worth of development support to the FSM.
|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.
|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.
In March 2020, the Chuuk Office of the Public Auditor warned that records related to the state debt-relief fund were improperly maintained, and that financial statements did not fully report liabilities to the public.
|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 several 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, which will face rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
In 2019, several members of the Yap Council of Chiefs, which oversees traditional and cultural matters on the island, unsuccessfully demanded the expulsion of journalist Joyce McClure, asserting that McClure wrote misleading news articles. McClure claimed the demand was prompted by critical reports on Chinese presence and influence on the island.
|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 96 percent of the population is Roman Catholic or Protestant. A small Ahmadi Muslim community has reported some instances of discrimination and vandalism. 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|
The educational system is free from extensive indoctrination.
|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 constitutionally protected 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|
Criminal activity does not pose a major threat to physical security, though police have struggled to deal with illegal fishing. Law enforcement officials have intercepted several shipments of weapons and ammunition bound for the FSM during 2020.
Mistreatment of individuals in custody is known to occur; in March 2020, the Justice Department filed charges against three correctional officers who allegedly assaulted a prisoner.
In October 2019, the acting attorney general on Yap, American Rachelle Bergeron, was murdered; her murder was allegedly connected to her work cracking down on human trafficking in the FSM. Two men were accused of conspiring to murder Bergeron that month, though the trial against them was delayed to October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
|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 2018, Congress passed a landmark law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, which then president Christian signed. However, the law did not mention gender identity, leaving transgender people vulnerable to continued discrimination.
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 CoFA, 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.
Travel out of the FSM was severely impacted by COVID-19-related measures, however, with inbound travel effectively halted by March 2020. Outbound travel restrictions ended in November, though inbound restrictions remained through year’s end.
|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. 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. The FSM’s first support center for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) opened in Chuuk in March 2020.
|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. Micronesian women are at risk of sex trafficking.
The 2020 edition of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report noted the government’s efforts to address trafficking, including the opening of an antitrafficking division in the Justice Department. However, services for survivors and professional knowledge of trafficking issues within law enforcement and the judiciary remained lacking.
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