Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
The repressive climate that followed a 2006 coup has eased since democratic elections were held in 2014. However, the ruling party frequently interferes with opposition activities, the judiciary is subject to political influence, and military and police brutality is a significant problem.
Fiji’s civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to greater state tolerance of political gatherings compared with the previous year.
Key Developments in 2017:
- In March 2017, three executives from the Fiji Times and an editorial contributor were charged with sedition for publishing a controversial letter about Muslims. Human rights groups claimed that the charges were politically motivated.
- The military made several statements criticizing political parties for their rhetoric throughout the year, including remarks made by Chief of Staff Jone Kalouniwai in June criticizing Pio Tikoduadua of the National Federation Party (NFP) for sowing ethnic divisions with his advocacy of the indigenous iTaukei people.
- Several Hindu temples were vandalized at the end of the year, raising concerns about sectarian tensions and discrimination against the Indo-Fijian population.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 24 / 40 (–1)
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 8 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
The prime minister is the head of government and serves four-year terms. The party that wins the most seats in parliamentary elections selects the prime minister, who is then appointed by the president. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First won 59 percent of the total vote and 32 seats in the 50-member Parliament. International observers reported that the elections were credible, with no reports of violence or intimidation. However, there were some flaws in the process: domestic observers were prohibited from polling stations and a restrictive media environment made it difficult for some political parties to obtain media coverage.
The president is elected by parliament, which chooses between two candidates: one named by the prime minister and one by the leader of the opposition. As head of state, the president—who is elected for one three-year term and is eligible for reelection—holds a largely ceremonial role. President George Konrote was elected by parliament in 2015.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
Parliament is Fiji’s unicameral legislative body, with 50 members elected to serve four-year terms. International observers regarded the last parliamentary elections, held in 2014, to be largely credible, although civil society participation was restricted.
Municipal councils continue to be run by government-appointed administrators, having been dissolved in 2009 in the wake of the abrogation of the 1997 constitution. As a result, municipal elections have not been held since 2005.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
The legal framework for Fijian elections is considered fair. However, the structure of the electoral system has raised concerns about potential political interference. Fiji First's general secretary, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, serves as minister of elections, as well as attorney general. Opposition parties claim that this creates a bias in the Electoral Commission, which administers elections, and affects the independence of the body.
In 2016, the government awarded a contract to a Pakistani company to administer the 2018 parliamentary elections. The move drew criticism from opposition parties, who argued that the outsourcing of election administration threatened the integrity of the process.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 9 / 16 (–1)
B1. 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? 3 / 4
The right to form political parties is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government has eligibility requirements that discourage the formation of smaller parties: prospective parties must submit 5,000 signatures to become registered. The 5 percent nationwide threshold for representation in parliament further disincentivizes the formation of smaller parties.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4
The dominance of Fiji First in parliament and its popularity with the public has left little space for opposition forces to assert themselves politically. After winning no seats in the 2014 elections, the Fiji Labor Party, the longstanding opposition party, became defunct and ceded that role to the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), which won 13 seats. Fiji First allegedly used state resources to campaign in 2014, which further disadvantaged opposition parties.
The prime minister has, in the past, stated that he would not allow the opposition parties to assume office. Ahead of the 2014 elections, he issued warnings of instability in the event his Fiji First party was defeated.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4 (–1)
Despite constitutional guarantees that it remain apolitical, the military frequently inserts itself into Fijian politics, and made several statements directed against opposition politicians in 2017. In June 2017, Chief of Staff Jone Kalouniwai criticized Pio Tikoduadua of the NFP for sowing ethnic divisions with his advocacy of the indigenous iTaukei people. The leaders of the three major political parties (including Tikoduadua) are former military officials, which contributes to the perception that the military has an undue political influence.
Score change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to the military’s increased involvement in politics by criticizing opposition parties.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
The law does not restrict the participation of minorities and women in politics. However, due to cultural traditions, the participation of indigenous women is limited. Only 7 out of the 50 members of parliament are women.
Smaller minority groups, including Banabans, Chinese, and people from other Polynesian islands, lack significant political representation.
Historically, political affiliations have been associated with ethnicity. The Bainimarama-led interim government pushed for national unity and a national identity transcending ethnicity, race, and religion. For the 2014 general elections, all political parties were required to have English names to appeal to all ethnic groups. Reserved seats and special considerations for ethnic and religious groups were eliminated.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 7 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3 / 4
The executive branch under Prime Minister Bainimarama determines the policies of government. However, the military is still influential in shaping the government’s policies: 10 military officers were elected to parliament in 2014. With Fiji First holding a strong parliamentary majority, the government has frequently pushed through bills and budgets with minimal opposition scrutiny.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4
Safeguards against corruption are limited in their effectiveness. In 2017, the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) had some success combatting institutional corruption, pursuing several high-profile cases. In July, for example, former education minister Mahendra Reddy was charged with bribery, but was acquitted by a court in December. Despite the prosecutions that have resulted from FICAC’s investigations, corruption remains a serious problem and many officials still act with impunity. FICAC has also allegedly pursued politically motivated corruption cases.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
Government standards of openness and transparency have improved since the restoration of elective democracy in 2014. Parliamentary sessions are broadcast live, and Hansard (an official report of parliamentary proceedings) is updated regularly. Despite these improvements, there is no law requiring parliamentarians to disclose their assets and income. Fiji lacks an access to information law, and requests for information from the media and the public are sometimes denied.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 35 / 60 (+1)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 12 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
Fiji has an active media sector, with several private television stations, radio stations, and newspapers. The opposition and other critics of the government have accused the government of using state power to silence critics. For example, the vaguely worded Media Industry Development Decree bans reporting that is critical of the government or harmful to “national interest public order.” The restrictive press laws are sometimes enforced by the government, which leads to self-censorship. In March 2017, three executives from the Fiji Times and an editorial contributor were charged with sedition for publishing a controversial letter about Muslims.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Freedom of religion is generally respected. However, several Hindu temples have been vandalized in recent years, including the desecration of the Tirath Dham temple in Nadi in December 2017; a temple near Suva was attacked the previous month. In Ra province, 15 people were convicted of sedition in September for attempting to form a Christian state.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
Academic freedom is not overtly constrained, but government control over funding has been used to exert influence over tertiary institutions. The University of the South Pacific prohibits the majority of its employees from taking on an official position with a political party or running for office.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
There were no confirmed reports of government restrictions on private discussion on political matters or other sensitive topics in 2017. However, the government places constraints on free speech, such as a law banning the burning of the national flag.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 6 / 12 (+1)
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 2 / 4 (+1)
Assembly rights were more respected in 2017: the crackdown on public gatherings that took place in 2016 was eased. Police permits are required for public gatherings and protests, and civil society leaders have reported that the permit process can be lengthy. The constitution gives the government wide latitude to prohibit protests, including on the basis of public safety and public morality.
Score change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because assembly rights were better respected in the year after the 2016 crackdown on public demonstrations, with no reports of gatherings being suppressed by authorities.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4
Fiji has an extensive nongovernmental organization (NGO) network, which largely operates without government interference. However, strict sedition laws, which criminalize criticism of the government, place sharp constraints on the range of initiatives that NGOs can undertake. NGOs have been critical of the proposed Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill, which they claim criminalizes criticism of parliament and could further erode civic space.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4
The general environment for trade unions has improved. Since the passage of the 2016 Employment Relations (Amendment) Act, all workers have the right to form unions and strike. However, the law restricts political activities by union members, prohibiting union members from becoming parliamentarians and impeding their ability to join political parties.
F. RULE OF LAW: 7 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4
While the constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, there have been credible allegations of political interference. The prime minister has substantial appointment powers, with the power to both appoint and dismiss judges on the Supreme Court and other high courts. These powers leave the judiciary vulnerable to interference and abuse by the executive.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4
Due process rights are often not respected in practice. Corruption is a major problem in the police force. Due to resource shortages, lengthy pretrial detentions are common. The law allows suspects to be arrested without a warrant for violating the Crimes Decree. Politically motivated criminal charges are not uncommon. Amnesty International claimed that the sedition charges leveled against the Fiji Times in 2017 were meant to silence criticism of the government.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4
Although the number of reported cases declined in 2017, torture and beatings by police remained a problem. Police officers and military officials who commit abuses are rarely brought to justice, and those who are convicted of crimes are frequently pardoned or have their convictions overturned on appeal. Prisons are often overcrowded, lack sanitation, and provide inadequate health services.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people face discrimination in employment and access to healthcare. Women experience discrimination in employment as well: a gender pay gap persists.
Relations between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians remain strained. Indigenous Fijians previously enjoyed legal advantages in education and political representation. However, the interim government, after the 2006 coup, removed many of these privileges in a bid to foster a sense of national unity. Despite this progress, Indo-Fijians still experience discrimination.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 10 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4
Citizens enjoy the freedom to travel, live, work, and seek education inside and outside the country. However, the law gives the government broad powers to restrict both internal and foreign travel. The government did not utilize the law to impose any restrictions on travel in 2017.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4
Property rights are generally respected. However, it is difficult to obtain land titles. The government amended the Land Sales Act in 2014 to require foreign nationals who fail to build a dwelling on their land within two years of acquisition to pay a fine equivalent to 10 percent of the land value every six months. Under the law, urban residential freehold land cannot be sold to foreigners.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4
Domestic violence remains a problem in Fiji, and perpetrators who are convicted of the crime often receive light sentences. The Minister for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation asserts that 72 percent of Fijian women have been victims of violence in their lifetimes. To address the problem, in March 2017, the government established a toll-free helpline to support victims of domestic violence.
Rape is also a serious issue in Fiji. Reports of rape increased dramatically in 2017, possibly because awareness of the legal consequences of the crime grew.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4
Sex trafficking of children remained a problem in 2017, and the government was ineffective in addressing it: there were no prosecutions for the crime during the year. Safety standards at workplaces are not always adequately enforced. Long work hours are common in some jobs, including transportation and shipping.