Freedom in the World
Parliamentary elections held in March 2011 were deemed free and fair. The new Congress reelected President Emanuel Mori and Vice President Alik L. Alik in May. Meanwhile, the Federated States of Micronesia continued to expand its financial ties with China.
The U.S. administered Micronesia, which included the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island groups, between 1947 and 1979 as a United Nations Trust Territory. In 1970, the Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and Palau demanded separate status from Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap; the latter four territories, representing 607 islands, became the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The FSM adopted a constitution and became an independent country in 1979.
In 1986, the FSM signed its first Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides the FSM with economic and defense assistance in exchange for allowing U.S. military bases on the islands. FSM citizens also receive visa-free entry to the United States for health services, education, and employment.
Compact funds represent about one-third of the FSM’s national income. An amended compact came into effect in 2003 to extend this core commitment for another 20 years. The federal Congress agreed in 2005 to distribute larger shares of compact funds to each of the FSM’s four states. A new system to track funded projects was adopted in 2009 to demonstrate improved transparency and accountability in the use of compact funds.
The March 8, 2011 legislative elections, in which all candidates were independents, were deemed free and fair. In May, the new Congress reelected President Emanuel Mori and Vice President Alik L. Alik.
In November 2011, state delegates to the national legislative conference agreed to address human trafficking. They also agreed to form a task force to evaluate the impact of the Compact of Free Association on FSM citizens living in the United States, for whom the compact provides broad access to education, health, and social services.
In December, the national government returned fiscal power to the Chuuk and Kosrae state governments. Memoranda of understanding between the federal and two state governments signed in April 2007 allowed federal administration of the states’ discretionary funds and disbursement from compact transfers after they experienced severe fiscal difficulties.
The FSM has been expanding its ties with China, which is one of only four countries in which the FSM has a permanent embassy. In 2010, the FSM named China as the preferred candidate to receive exclusive fishing rights in FSM waters. Chinese aid to the FSM includes financing expansion of the Chuuk airport terminal and providing scholarships for FSM students to study in China.
The FSM is an electoral democracy. The 2011 national legislative elections were deemed largely free and fair. The unicameral, 14-member Congress has one directly elected representative from each of the four constituent states, who serve four-year terms. The other 10 representatives are 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, which 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. 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, including allegations of improper use of travel funds by government officials, are widespread and a major source of public discontent.
The news media operate freely. Print outlets include government-published newsletters and several small, privately owned weekly and monthly newspapers. Each state government runs its own radio station, and the Baptist church runs a fifth station. Television stations operate in three of the four states. Cable television is available in Pohnpei and Chuuk, and satellite television is increasingly common. Use of the internet is growing, but low income 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 or set workplace health and safety standards. The right to strike and bargain collectively is not legally recognized. 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. The small national police force is responsible for local law enforcement matters, while the United States provides the FSM’s national defense. There were no reports of abuses or inhumane treatment by police or prison officials.
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 Congress, and social and economic discrimination against women persists in this male-dominated culture. Domestic violence is a problem, and cases often go unreported because of family pressure or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Offenders rarely face trial, and those found guilty usually receive light sentences. In June 2011, the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded FSM to Tier 3, meaning that the country could become ineligible for U.S. development assistance if it is found to be unresponsive in fighting human trafficking.