Freedom in the World
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Prime Minister Maatia Toafa consolidated his majority in parliament in 2005, setting aside public fears of further political stability in Tuvalu. Former prime minister Faimalaga Luka died in August.
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands, situated in the central South Pacific Ocean, became a British protectorate in 1892 and a British colony in 1916. During World War II, the United States used the northernmost atoll of the Ellice Islands as a base to fight the Japanese. In 1974, as Britain was preparing the colony for independence, the Polynesian Ellice Islanders voted to separate themselves from the Micronesian Gilbertese. The Ellice Islands became an independent country on October 1, 1978, under the precolonial name of Tuvalu. (The Gilbert Islands, a group of 16 islands, form part of Kiribati.) The threats of climate change and rising sea levels continue to worry the population of these low-lying islands.
In Febraury 2001, Faimalaga Luka became prime minister after the sudden death from a heart attack of Ionatana Ionatana two months earlier. In December 2001, Luka was ousted in a no-confidence vote and replaced by Kolou Telake. In the July 2002 general elections, in which Telake failed to win a seat, Saufatu Sopoanga was elected prime minister.
Intense political competition brought Tuvalu's parliament to a virtual standstill in 2003. Prime Minister Sopoanga's government lost its majority following a by-elec-tion in May, and Sopoanga refused to concede or allow the parliament to convene. The impasse ended in October after another by-election gave Sopoanga a new majority in parliament. However, less than 10 months later, the parliament ousted Sopoanga with a vote of no confidence. In October 2004, the parliament chose Maatia Toafa as the new prime minister by a vote of eight to seven.
In April 2005, Toafa risked losing his slim majority when Nanumaga island's representative, a member of his government, resigned citing ill health. Fortunately for Toafa, the new Nanumaga representative chose to join his government and kept him in power, allowing the parliament to reconvene to pass the budget and deal with other state matters. Frequent changes of government as a result of no-confidence votes in parliament have sustained a debate in the last decade over whether citizens should be allowed to choose their prime minister directly rather than through parliament. In August, former prime minister Luka died.
Citizens of Tuvalu can change their government democrati cally. Tuvalu is a member of the Commonwealth, and the head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, is represented by a gov-ernor-general who must be a citizen of Tuvalu. The prime minister, chosen by parliament, leads the government. The unicameral, 15-member parliament is elected to four-year terms. A six-person council administers each of the country's nine atolls. Council members are chosen by universal suffrage to four-year terms.
There are no formal political parties, although there are no laws against their formation. Political allegiances revolve around geography and personalities.
Tuvalu is one of the few places in the Pacific Islands where corruption is not a serious problem. The country was not ranked in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. In 2001, the country's sole radio station, Radio Tuvalu, was privatized. The government runs a television station, but financial constraints limit broadcast time and variety of programs. Many residents use satellite dishes to access foreign programs. There is one fortnightly newspaper, Tuvalu Echoes. The government does not restrict internet access, but penetration is largely limited to the capital because of cost-of-access and connectivity issues. Religious freedom is generally respected in practice. The vast majority of the population, some 97 percent, is Congregational Protestant. Religion is a major part of life, and Sunday service is typically considered the most important weekly event. Academic freedom is also generally respected.
Nongovernmental groups across all levels of society provide a variety of health, education, and other services for women, youths, and the population at large. Public demonstrations are permitted, and workers are free to organize unions and choose their own representatives for collective bargaining. Being a largely subsistence economy with tiny service and manufacturing sectors, Tuvalu has only one registered trade union; the Tuvalu Seaman's Union has about 600 members who work on foreign merchant vessels. Workers have the right to strike, but no strikes have occurred in the country's history. Public sector employees, who total fewer than 1,000, are members of professional associations that do not have union status.
The judiciary is independent and provides fair trials. Tuvalu has a two-tier judicial system. The higher courts include the Privy Council in London, the court of appeal, and the high court. The lower courts consist of senior and resident magistrates, the island courts, and the land courts. The chief justice, who is also the chief justice of Tonga, sits on the high court about once a year. A civilian-controlled, 70member constabulary force maintains internal order. Prisons are spartan, but there were no reports of abuses.
Two-thirds of the population engages in subsistence farming and fishing. Main sources of revenue for the state include funds generated from the sale of coins and stamps, sale of tuna fishing licenses to foreign fisheries, and lease of the country's internet domain name, ".tv," to foreign firms. Another 10 percent of its annual budget is derived from the Tuvalu Trust Fund, a well-run overseas investment fund set up by the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Korea in 1987 to provide development assistance.
There is general respect for human rights, but traditional customs and social norms condone discrimination against women and limit their roles in society. Violence against women is rare. Rape is a crime punishable by law, but spousal rape is not included in this definition. No law specifically targets sexual harassment. Women enjoy equal access to education, although they remain underrepresented in positions of leadership in business and government.