Freedom in the World 2010 - Micronesia
|Publication Date||3 May 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Micronesia, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0ceae0c.html [accessed 31 August 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Following March 2009 congressional elections, the government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) proposed an amendment to the constitution in May that would increase terms for representatives of single-member districts from two to four years. That same month, the FSM's former ambassador to the United States Jesse Marehalau was convicted of corruption.
The United States administered Micronesia, which included the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island groups, between 1947 and 1979 as a UN Trust 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 and became self-governing in 1979 as the trusteeship expired and status negotiations with the United States continued.
In 1986, the FSM signed its first Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides the FSM with U.S. economic and defense assistance in exchange for U.S. military bases in the islands. An amended compact, which extends this core commitment for another 20 years, came into effect in 2003. Compact funds, which represent about one-third of the FSM's national income, have contributed to education, health, the environment, capacity building, infrastructure, and private sector development. Money also goes to a trust fund overseen by a joint board of U.S. and FSM trustees. However, the allocation of funds has been a source of serious tension in federal-state relations, and several states threatened to leave the federation and seek separate bilateral treaties with the United States unless larger shares of the compact payments were distributed. The federal congress subsequently agreed to distribute larger shares to each of the four states. To improve transparency and accountability in its use of compact funds, a new record system was launched to track compact fund projects in November 2009.
Congressional elections held in March 2009 were deemed largely free and fair. Twenty-one independent candidates ran for the ten two-year term seats up for election; no women competed. In May, the government passed an amendment to the constitution that would give all representatives of Congress four-year terms; the amendment must be approved by voters in the 2011 election. Five candidates competed in a special election for one of the Pohnpei seats in October after its incumbent, Resio Moses, died suddenly in June.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The FSM is an electoral democracy. The unicameral, 14-member Congress has one directly elected representative, serving four-year terms, from each of the four constituent states, and 10 representatives directly elected for two-year terms from single-member districts. Chuuk state, home to nearly half of the FSM's population, holds the largest number of congressional seats; this has been a source of resentment among the three smaller states. The president and vice president are chosen by Congress from among the four state representatives to serve four-year terms. By informal agreement, the two posts are rotated among the representatives of the four states. Emanuel Mori of Chuuk and Alik L. Alik of Kosrae were chosen as president and vice president, respectively, in 2007. Each state has its own constitution, elected legislature, and governor; the 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, but there are no restrictions on their formation. Political loyalties are based mainly on geography, clan relations, and personality.
Official corruption and abuses are widespread and a major source of voter discontent. The United States suspended compact payments to the state of Chuuk in August 2008 after it failed to implement plans for proper financial and management oversight; payments were resumed in 2009 after new oversight measures were put in place. In May, former FSM ambassador to the United States Jesse Marehalau was found guilty of corruption for his involvement in a fake passport scheme. He was sentenced to two concurrent prison terms, which were largely suspended except for 30 months, and a restitution fine of $3,000. The FSM was not rated in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The news media operate freely. Print outlets include government-published newsletters and several small, privately owned 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, and satellite television is increasingly common. Use of the internet is also growing, but low incomes and small populations make it difficult for service providers to expand coverage.
Religious freedom is respected in this mainly Christian country. There are no reports of restrictions on academic freedom, but lack of funds negatively affects the quality of and access to education.
Freedom of assembly is respected, and citizens are free to organize civic groups. A small number of student and women's organizations are active. No labor unions exist, though there are no laws against their formation. No specific laws regulate work hours, recognize the right to strike and bargain collectively, or set workplace health and safety standards. The economy is dependent on fishing, tourism, subsistence agriculture, and U.S. assistance.
The judiciary is independent, but it lacks funds to improve the functioning of the courts. There is also cultural resistance to using the court system, particularly for sex crimes.
Women enjoy equal rights under the law, including those 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 governments. However, there are no women in parliament, and social and economic discrimination against women persists in the male-dominated culture. Domestic violence is common, and cases often go unreported because of family pressure, fear of reprisal, or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Offenders rarely face trial, and those found guilty usually receive light sentences.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.