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compact of free association, French National Assembly, Easter Island, nuclear bombs, Pitcairn Island

The Pacific Islands include ten independent nations (Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Samoa); three political units that are incorporated parts of larger nations (Hawaii is a state of the United States, Papua is a province of Indonesia, and Easter Island is part of Chile); six self-governing entities that maintain some association with their former colonial power (Cook Islands and Niue with New Zealand; the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and Northern Mariana Islands with the United States); and seven territories administered by other nations. These seven territories are New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna, all administered by France; Tokelau, administered by New Zealand; Pitcairn Island, administered by Britain; and American Samoa and Guam, administered by the United States.

The governments of the Pacific Islands vary widely. Generally, however, the independent nations have replaced hereditary chiefs of the past with constitutions providing for executives and legislatures. In several instances, the hereditary chiefs have been incorporated into the role of government. In Fiji, for example, the president is elected by a Great Council of Chiefs. The president then appoints a prime minister from the members of parliament, some of whom the president appoints and some of whom are popularly elected. One exception to this type of government is in Tonga, where politics are effectively controlled by a hereditary king, who serves as head of state and appoints the head of government.

Among the nations that have entered compacts of free association with the United States or New Zealand, the pattern is for local self-government with matters of defense overseen by the foreign power. The Marshall Islands, for example, operate under a locally written constitution providing for a popularly elected president and legislature. In 1983, voters chose to assign military matters to the United States. Since 1991 the Marshall Islands has been a member of the United Nations. The Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, which also maintain a compact of free association with the United States, are members of the United Nations as well.

Among the territories of overseas powers, internal self-government is also the rule, with popularly elected legislatures and executives. A small number of popularly elected representatives are also sent to national legislature in the overseas capital. For example, Guam sends one nonvoting member to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., while French Polynesia sends one voting member to each house of the French National Assembly in Paris. The territories are typically extremely dependent on the mainland government for economic subsidies, and they often have little control over major political decisions. For example, despite widespread protests by French Polynesians, France continued to detonate nuclear bombs on uninhabited atolls in French Polynesia until 1996.

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