Democracy slides in the Pacific

Julie Haggie
Chief Executive
Transparency International New Zealand

Democracy is under attack in the Pacific


Three weeks ago the Solomon Islands government voted to amend the constitution to delay the election until 2024. This is an unreasonable exercise of executive power.

And it is not just the use of this power, but the manner in which it was done which is of concern.  Parliamentary standing orders were suspended in advance of the constitutional change, meaning  that the Solomon Islands public were denied the right to make submissions and consult on a constitutional change – this should be a fundamental democratic right.

The fact that the Solomon Islands accepted an offer by the Australian Government to fund the election, and then still passed the constitutional change crumples any credibility of Sogavare’s argument that the election was being delayed because the country could not afford to run it in the same year as the Pacific Games.

The Sogavare government has also censored the national broadcaster, ordering it to only allow content that portrays the nation’s government in a positive light, vetting all stories before broadcast. This followed a removal of the national broadcaster’s status as a state-owned enterprise reducing its independence. It also threatened to ban foreign journalists who were deemed disrespectful of the country’s relationship with China. 


On September 9th Fiji’s Parliament passed the controversial Electoral Act Amendment Bill No. 49.

Both the Law Council of Australia and the Fiji Law Society argue that the bill vests the Supervisor of Elections with extraordinarily broad information gathering powers, without appropriate safeguards or oversight mechanisms. Decisions by the Supervisor may only be appealed to the Fiji Electoral Commission who have the final word and cannot be further appealed or reviewed by any court.

Integrity Fiji notes that Bill No 49 limits free speech and media freedom. The Bill makes a mockery of the principles of democracy. It will greatly disadvantage opposition parties campaigning in the Fiji National Elections 2022.


The Kiribati government has recently engaged in another red flag activity – attacking the judiciary. There are now no sitting judges in Kiribati. In August it suspended its three remaining Court of Appeal Judges -all of whom are retired New Zealand judges- and tried to deport a High Court judge.  Earlier in the year it had suspended the Chief Justice.  

Free press under attack

There are now restrictions in several countries on journalists, noted by the 20th World Press Freedom Index.  

Journalists in Fiji face the threat of heavy fines or imprisonment for publishing material ‘contrary to the public or national interest’. 

Earlier this year the head of PNG’s EMTV’s News was suspended for allegations of damaging the reputation of the company, in relation to routine coverage of court proceedings against an Australian businessman.   

Political leaders across the Pacific should celebrate and encourage press freedom, not try to throttle it.  A great comment from Global Citizen is “Defending the right of anyone — including the media — to speak freely without fear of retaliation or violence is key to inclusive democracies, good governance and sustainable development, and is considered the antidote to authoritarianism.”

The extraordinary use of executive powers to amend the constitution, curtail media freedom and undermine the judiciary are well known red flags of authoritarianism. We urge the New Zealand government to use the bilateral relations discussions with the Solomon Islands, aid funding and its connections with Pacific Governments to highlight the damage that has been caused to the democratic structures and reputations throughout the region.    

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