Freedom in the World
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Legislative elections held in March 2005 saw most incumbents reelected. Meanwhile, Faichuk island's representative to congress proposed a bill to admit Faichuk as the fifth state of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
The United States administered Micronesia, which included the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Island territories, between 1947 and 1979 as a UN Trusteeship Territory. In 1970, the Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and Palau demanded separate status from Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap; these latter four territories, representing 607 islands, became the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The FSM adopted a constitution in 1979 and became independent in 1984.
In 1986, the first Compact of Free Association was signed between the United States and FSM. Under the agreement, the United States provides economic assistance and external defense in exchange for the right to establish military bases in the islands. A new compact with the same core commitment came into effect in December 2003 to cover the next 20 years. In the first three years, the FSM will receive a total of $76 million in economic assistance grants for education, health, capacity building, private sector development, the environment, and infrastructure. Another $16 million will go to a trust fund that will be overseen by a joint board of U.S. and FSM trustees to ensure good fund management. Beginning in the fourth year, an annual decrement of $800,000 from sectoral grants will be re-allocated to the trust fund until 2023. FSM citizens will continue to enjoy visa-free entry to the United States, access to health services and education, and the ability to work without employment visas in the United States.
Compact funds represent one-third of the country's national income, and the division of those funds has been a source of serious tension in federal-state relations. In 2003, the people of Faichuk island in the state of Chuuk threatened to leave the federation and proposed a separate bilateral treaty with the United States unless Chuuk received a larger share of the compact funds; Faichuk has 30 percent of Chuuk's population. Other states soon followed with similar demands. In response, the federal government agreed to increase the share of compact funds provided to the four states.
In congressional elections held in March 2005, most incumbents were reelected. Proposed constitutional amendments to allow direct election of the president and vice president obtained support from more than half of the voters but fell short of the three-quarters majority required by the constitution.
Faichuk, which has the largest landmass in FSM, continued to seek separate status from Chuuk during the year. If congress approves the proposed bill to make Faichuk a separate state in FSM, Faichuk could become the fifth state by January 1, 2006.
The citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) can change their government democratically. A unicameral, 14-member legislature has one representative each from the four constituent states directly elected for four-year terms, and 10 representatives from single-member districts directly elected for two-year terms. Holding nearly half the country's population, Chuuk has the largest number of congressional seats, which has been a source of resentment with the three smaller states. The president and vice president are chosen from among the four state representatives in the legislature to serve four-year terms. By informal agreement, these two top offices are rotated among the representatives of the four states. President Joseph Urusemal, a former governor of Yap, was elected to the post in May 2003. Each state has its own constitution, elected legislature, and governor. State governments have considerable power, particularly in budgetary matters. Traditional leaders and institutions exercise significant influence in society, especially at the village level. There are no formal political parties, although there are no restrictions against their formation.
Political corruption and official abuse are serious problems and a source of voter discontent. Micronesia was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The media operate freely. In addition to government-published newsletters, there are several small private weekly and monthly newspapers; television stations operate in three of the four states. Each state government runs its own radio station, and the Baptist church runs a fifth station. Cable television is available in Pohnpei and Chuuk. Satellite television is increasingly common. While internet use is small but growing, a small population and limited income makes it difficult for internet service providers to expand coverage and bandwidth (a problem shared by most other Pacific Island countries).
Religious freedom is respected in this mainly Christian country. There were no reports of restrictions of academic freedom.
Citizens are free to organize civic groups, and there are a few student and women's groups. No labor unions exist, but there are no laws against their formation. The economy is dependent on fishing, tourism, assistance from the United States, and subsistence agriculture. No specific laws regulate work hours, recognize the right to strike or bargain collectively, or set workplace health and safety standards.
The judiciary is independent, but lack of funds hinders improvements in the functioning of the courts. Cultural resistance to using the courts, particularly for sex crimes, results in many offenders not being brought to justice.
Women hold equal rights under the law, including regarding property ownership and employment. Women generally receive equal pay for equal work and are well represented in the lower and middle ranks of the state and federal government. However, social and economic discrimination aginst women does exist in the male-dominated culture of these islands. Domestic violence is common, and cases often go unreported because of family pressure, fear of further assault, or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Offenders rarely go to trial, and those found guilty usually receive light sentences.