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Wake up call for regional democracy

Fiji and Papua New Guinea remain the only nations in the Pacific that are not considered “free” democracies, according to the latest global freedom investigation.

But a further nine Pacific islands surveyed have been given glowing report cards, passing after Freedom House released its analysis of citizens’ access to both political rights and civil liberties.

Its recent 2021 democratic monitoring report had found that less than 20 per cent of the world’s population live in independent nations that are classified free.

That figure is the smallest proportion of the population since 1995.

But nearly 82 per cent of the Pacific’s fully sovereign states were considered free.

Free Association states of New Zealand and French overseas territories were not counted.

Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands with a 93 score out of 100, and Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, scoring a 92, were significantly the region’s most democratic states.

Marshall Islands earned 38 out of 40 on political rights to top the 11 Pacific nations surveyed.

Kirbati was given a 56 on civil liberties to edge out Palau by one.

freedom world pacific
Picture: Freedom House

Vanuatu scored 33 on political right towards 82 overall, one ahead of Samoa, who had scored a higher 51 on civil liberties.

The remaining Pacific islands rated Tonga and Solomon Islands, two adrift on 79, Nauru on 77, while “partly free” Papua New Guinea, on 62, and Fiji, on 60, languished behind its neighbours.

Fiji scored 24 on political rights, but PNG scoring 39 clearly delivered more on civil liberties.

Their failings from the not-for-profit organisation’s criteria was that freedom was not flourishing where governments are accountable to their people.

The report did applaud that the once Fijian repressive climate that followed a 2006 military coup has eased since democratic elections were held in 2014 and again in 2018.

But it raised a number of concerns after the “ruling party frequently interferes with opposition activities” and the “judiciary is subject to political influence”.

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Democracy in the Pacific challenged

The military and police “brutality” are also considered a “significant problem”, which coincided on shutting down protests from the University of the South Pacific this year.

The Fijian government rejected permits for marches and public demonstrations, citing Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

The report on PNG said that elections have “often been marred by irregularities and violence”.

It noted that only two governments since independence from Australia in 1975 have survived a full term.

Incumbent governments have used a “boom in mineral resources extractions” to consolidate its control.

The report also stated that while the judiciary retains significant independence and the media are mostly free to criticise the government, “corruption remains a serious problem”.

It also found there were absolutely no strong and effective safeguards against the corruption.

The global report found that a number of countries around the world not listed as free is the highest it has ever been in more than 15 years.

The worrying downturn encouraged US president Joe Biden to call for a summit for democracy that was held earlier this month.

Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu attended the online summit.

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