Tuvalu

Free
94
100
PR Political Rights 37 40
CL Civil Liberties 57 60
Last Year's Score & Status
94 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Tuvalu is a parliamentary democracy that holds regular, competitive elections. Civil liberties are generally upheld. Ongoing problems include a lack of antidiscrimination laws to protect women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.

header2 Key Developments in 2017

  • In July, a by-election was held to fill the seat of former prime minister Apisai Ielemia, who had been removed from Parliament in 2016 after a corruption conviction. However, the legitimacy of the vote was disputed, as Ielemia’s conviction had been overturned and he was challenging his removal in the courts. The case was unresolved at year’s end.
  • The Ielemia dispute stirred speculation that Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga’s governing majority in Parliament was at risk, but he remained in office throughout the year.

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? 4.004 4.004

A governor general represents the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The prime minister, chosen by Parliament, leads the government. Enele Sopoaga, who became prime minister after his predecessor was ousted in a no-confidence vote in 2013, secured a new term after the 2015 parliamentary elections, holding together his alliance of independent lawmakers.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The unicameral, 15-member Parliament is directly elected through contests in eight geographical constituencies, all but one of which have two members each. In the 2015 elections, all candidates ran as independents, and 12 of the incumbents returned to office. Each of the main inhabited islands in Tuvalu is also governed by an elected local council.

Apisai Ielemia, the prime minister from 2006 to 2010, was removed from his Parliament seat in 2016 following a corruption conviction earlier that year, even though the conviction had since been overturned. Ielemia maintained that his removal was invalid and that he was still a member of Parliament. Nevertheless, a by-election for his seat proceeded in July 2017, and the winner, Isaia Vaipuna Taape, was sworn in to fill it. Ielemia was pursuing an appeal in the courts as of late 2017.

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? 4.004 4.004

Tuvalu’s legal framework provides for democratic elections, and the laws are fairly and impartially implemented.

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? 4.004 4.004

There are no formal political parties, though no law bars their formation. Candidates typically run as independents and form loose, frequently shifting alliances once in office.

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? 4.004 4.004

Tuvalu has an established pattern of democratic transfers of power. Individual prime ministers and governments have seldom lasted a full term in office in recent decades, with intense political rivalries often prompting no-confidence votes in Parliament.

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? 4.004 4.004

Traditional elders and the main Protestant church play an influential role in society, but they do not exercise undue control over the political choices of voters and candidates.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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

All Tuvaluans aged 18 and over who are present in the country on polling day but not imprisoned are eligible to vote. While women formally have full political rights, in practice their participation is somewhat inhibited by traditional biases. Three women ran for seats in the 2015 parliamentary elections, and one of them won office.

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? 4.004 4.004

Tuvalu’s elected officials are able to develop and implement government policies and legislation without improper interference from any unelected entity.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

Corruption is not a severe problem in Tuvalu, and the country’s independent auditing and law enforcement bodies are generally effective in combatting graft, though there have been some corruption scandals in recent years. Former prime minister Ielemia was convicted in 2016 for receiving over $15,000 from Japanese and Taiwanese sources while in office and depositing the money in a personal bank account. The conviction was overturned by a higher court a few weeks later, but the fact that Ielemia had begun to serve a prison term led to his disputed removal from Parliament.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

Government operations and legislative processes are generally transparent, though there is no freedom of information law to guarantee and regulate public access to official records. While officials are legally obliged to disclose their assets and income, the rules are not consistently enforced, according to the U.S. State Department.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and there are no reported restrictions on this right, though the small media market does not support independent domestic news outlets. The government operates a radio station and a national newspaper. Many residents use satellite dishes to access foreign programming. Internet penetration has grown in recent years, approaching 50 percent of the population in 2017, though access is largely limited to the main island.

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

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion, and this right is generally respected in practice, particularly on the main island of Funafuti. A Protestant church, the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, has official status under the law, and about 97 percent of the population belongs. Traditional leaders are empowered to regulate local religious activities, and on smaller islands they sometimes discourage minority groups from proselytizing or holding public events.

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

Academic freedom is generally respected.

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? 4.004 4.004

There are no significant restrictions on freedom of expression. The government does not improperly monitor personal communications or social media activity.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government typically upholds this right in practice.

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? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of association is respected. Nongovernmental organizations operate without interference, providing a variety of health, education, and other services.

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

Workers in the private sector have the right to organize unions, bargain collectively, and strike. Public-sector employees can join professional associations and engage in collective bargaining, but they are not permitted to strike. Most labor disputes are resolved through negotiations in practice. The only registered union represents seafarers.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judiciary is independent. The chief justice is appointed by the head of state on the advice of the cabinet, and other judges are appointed in the same manner after consultation with the chief justice. Judges cannot be removed arbitrarily.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4.004 4.004

The authorities generally uphold due process during arrests, detentions, and trials. A public defense lawyer is available to detainees and defendants. However, the limited capacity of the legal system can lead to delays in court proceedings and access to counsel.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 by police or in the prison system during the year. Criminal activity does not pose a major threat to physical security.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

While women generally enjoy equality before the law, traditional customs and social norms can limit women’s role in society, and there are no specific legal protections against gender discrimination in employment.

Sexual activity between men can be punished with imprisonment, though the law is not actively enforced. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not specifically banned.

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? 4.004 4.004

Tuvaluans are free to travel within the country and abroad, and to relocate for purposes including employment and education.

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? 4.004 4.004

The legal framework and government policies are generally supportive of property rights and private business activity.

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? 3.003 4.004

Although personal social freedoms are generally respected, domestic violence often goes unreported because it is viewed as a private matter. There are no specific laws against spousal rape.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

Forced labor is prohibited, and the government mandates basic protections against exploitative or dangerous working conditions, though enforcement is not proactive or consistent. Most of the labor force works in the informal sector or in small-scale fishing and agriculture.

On Tuvalu

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  • Global Freedom Score

    93 100 free