Comoros’s volatile political history includes coups and attempted coups, though some recent presidential and legislative elections were reasonably well administered. A controversial 2018 referendum introduced major systemic changes, and opponents of the referendum and its main proponent, President Azali Assoumani, were severely persecuted. Since winning the referendum and securing reelection in 2019, Azali has consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and limiting press freedom. Systemic corruption and poverty remain problems.
- The ruling Convention for the Renewal of the Comoros (CRC) and allied candidates won every seat in the January and February legislative elections, which were marred by an opposition boycott and disagreements over voter turnout.
- President Azali was the reported target of an unsuccessful April bombing attempt, which the authorities blamed on a terrorist organization. Some 19 people were detained over the incident by May.
- Comorian authorities suspended travel to the French territories of Mayotte and Réunion in March and implemented a COVID-19-related overnight curfew in April, which remained in effect at year’s end. Public gatherings were prohibited for much of the year. The government reported 765 cases and 9 deaths to the World Health Organization at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
Under the 2001 constitution, the president was directly elected for a single five-year term, with eligibility rotating among the main islands of Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan, and Mohéli. However, a new constitution, approved in a controversial 2018 referendum that was boycotted by the opposition, allows the president to run for two consecutive five-year terms, and abolished the system of rotating power among the islands. The referendum allowed President Azali Assoumani of the CRC to contest the March 2019 presidential election.
The Supreme Court barred seven contestants from participating ahead of election day, including former president Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi. On election day, the 12 opposition candidates reported that some polling stations opened several hours early, with full ballot boxes. Acts of violence and intimidation were also reported in some regions.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) initially reported that Azali won the election in the first round with 60.8 percent of the vote, while Ahamada Mahamoudou of the Juwa Party won 14.6 percent; in early April, the Supreme Court validated results stating that Azali earned 59 percent of the vote. The 12 opposition candidates immediately rejected the results. Observers from the African Union (AU), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the East Africa Standby Force, an AU-backed regional defense organization, said the contest was marred by irregularities.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
The unicameral Assembly of the Union consists of 24 directly elected members who serve five-year terms. Another 9 members were previously selected by the three islands’ assemblies, but those seats were eliminated via a 2019 ordinance.
The 2020 legislative elections, held in two rounds in January and February, were boycotted by the major opposition parties. Progovernment candidates won every seat; the CRC won 20, the allied Orange Party won 2, and progovernment independent candidates won the remaining 2. AU monitors who observed the January round called the contest generally peaceful, but noted a lack of public interest due to the opposition boycott. Opposition groups claimed that first-round turnout stood at 10 percent, rejecting the CENI figure of 61.5 percent. Members of the Comorian diaspora were unable to participate, with the government denying the opposition’s calls to ensure their inclusion.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the January and February legislative elections were marred by disagreements over voter turnout and an opposition boycott, leaving Comorians effectively unable to vote for the candidates of their choice.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The CENI, while historically able to run credible elections, has faced more recent accusations of bias and corruption.
The 2018 constitutional referendum, which the CENI said passed with 93 percent of the vote, was marred by an opposition boycott. Opposition groups denounced it as an unconstitutional power grab by Azali, and said Azali’s dismissal of the Constitutional Court ahead of the vote rendered it illegal. There were also allegations of voter intimidation and fraud. Later, upon facing growing dissent in the parliament, Azali dismissed the CENI’s top opposition representative.
The new constitution allows the president to run for two consecutive terms, abolished the system of rotating power among the islands, abolished the three vice-presidential posts (one representing each island), and declared Sunni Islam the national religion. It also transferred the competencies of the Constitutional Court, which was considered impartial in deciding electoral matters, to a new Supreme Court chamber.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
Political parties are mainly formed around specific leaders and draw on island or ethnic bases of support. In the past, parties have generally operated freely, though the government occasionally disrupted opposition parties’ activities by denying them meeting and assembly space.
The authorities systematically cracked down on opposition figures who publicly criticized the 2018 constitutional referendum. That December, two dozen opposition figures received prison sentences for opposing the referendum or the president, including former vice president Djaffar Said Ahmed Hassane and Juwa secretary general Ahmed el-Barwane. El-Barwane was among 17 opposition figures pardoned by Azali in 2019.
Despite those pardons, his government has maintained pressure on the opposition in the aftermath of the 2019 presidential election. Presidential candidates Achmet Said Mohamed and Soilihi Mohamed were briefly detained that March, though both were later released. Soilihi, who led a National Transitional Council (CNT) that unsuccessfully attempted to force Azali from office through civil disobedience and industrial action, agreed to refrain from further involvement after his release that April.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
In the past, numerous opposition parties had a realistic chance of gaining power through elections, though they were impeded by occasional government interference. Allegations of misuse of state resources by incumbents were not uncommon. However, the arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences against opposition leaders who spoke out against the 2018 constitutional referendum hampered the ability of opposition parties to compete in elections. The 2020 legislative elections, which were marred by an opposition boycott, ended with progovernment candidates winning every seat.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because progovernment candidates won every legislative seat in the January and February elections after an opposition boycott, leaving no opposition presence in the body.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
While individuals are generally free to exercise their political choices, the influence of Comoros’s powerful army—which cracked down on dissent during the 2018 constitutional referendum—as well as of religious authorities can place pressure on voters and candidates.
The army was used to intimidate and detain opposition figures during and after the 2019 presidential campaign. Gendarmes arrested Soilihi after he announced his CNT involvement that March. Gendarmes also interrogated the spouse of presidential candidate Achmet, who served as a CNT spokesperson, that April.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
There are no laws preventing various segments of the population from enjoying full political rights and electoral opportunities. However, traditional attitudes discourage women from participating in politics. Only four women won legislative seats in the 2020 polls. Legal and societal discrimination against LGBT+ people makes political advocacy for LGBT+ rights difficult.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
According to the constitution, the president decides on the policies of the state, which are executed by the government. However, irregular legislative activity hampered representative policymaking in previous years.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
There are reports of corruption at all levels, including within the judiciary, civil service, and security forces. The Azali administration dissolved the National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption in 2016.
In 2018, former president Sambi was arrested for corruption, embezzlement, and forgery in connection with a passport-sales scheme. A parliamentary report revealed that the scheme cost Comoros as much as $971 million. Sambi remained under house arrest at the end of 2020.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations are characterized by opacity. Various reform initiatives have been unsuccessful. Financial asset disclosures by public officials are not released to the public. Comoros provides no opportunities for public engagement in the budget process.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and of the press. However, the use of censorship laws to prosecute legitimate journalistic work, and other pressure, has prompted widespread self-censorship. Press freedom was restricted in 2018 with the closings of private radio stations, as criticism of Azali and the constitutional referendum gained traction.
Journalistic activity remained restricted in 2020. In January, Masiwa Komor reporter Ali Mbaé and FCBK FM reporter Oubeidillah Mchangama were arrested while planning to cover an opposition rally on Grande Comore. That same month, news director Binti Mhadjou and editor in chief Moinadjoumoi Papa Ali, both of the public Comoros Radio and Television Office, were suspended by the information minister for purportedly giving favorable coverage to strike participants. They returned to their roles in March. In December, Oubeidillah was arrested for disturbing “public order” after reporting on the possibility of a fuel shortage, but was provisionally released later that month.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Some 98 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. Sunni Islam was made the state religion in 2018, resulting in wariness of the government among adherents of minority religions. Previously, the state religion had been “Islam”; some observers suggested the change reflected Azali’s efforts to bring Comoros closer to Saudi Arabia and to counter the influence of former president Sambi, who is seen as close to Iran.
Anti-Shia sentiments have been publicly expressed by some government figures, while many Christians keep their faith private to avoid harassment. Proselytizing and public religious ceremonies are prohibited for all religions except Sunni Islam.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Comoros has two types of schools: madrassas, where the Quran is integral, and state-run schools with French instruction. Academic freedom is generally respected, though the education system is sometimes affected by unrest from student protests and teacher strikes.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Private discussion is generally free. However, the legacies of the country’s volatile political history, which involves coups and attempted coups, the opposition crackdown during the 2018 constitutional referendum, authorities’ monitoring of social media during the 2019 presidential campaign, and a one-day shutdown of telecommunications services that March, can discourage people from openly discussing politics in some situations.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally protected, but these freedoms have been inconsistently upheld, and deteriorated significantly since 2018. Opposition rallies held before and soon after the March 2019 presidential election were violently dispersed. Public gatherings were banned under COVID-19-related measures during much of 2020, and those measures remained in effect at year’s end.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) sometimes face bureaucratic interference, including requirements to secure permits from high-level officials to visit prisons. Some NGO representatives have spoken out against the atmosphere of repression in recent years, but did so at some risk in light of the broad crackdown on dissent.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers have the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike. In cases of national interest, the government may require essential personnel to return to work. No law prohibits antiunion discrimination or protects workers from retribution for striking. There are some laws that impose mandatory arbitration processes for labor disputes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The judicial system is based on both Sharia (Islamic law) and the French legal code. Though the law establishes mechanisms for the selection of judges and attorneys, the executive often disregards these and simply appoints people to their positions. Court decisions are not always upheld.
The 2018 referendum abolished the Constitutional Court and established a new constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court. This chamber ruled in favor of the government during the March 2019 election period by barring several candidates from running and by validating the results, despite widespread concerns over voting irregularities.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
All defendants have the right to a fair public trial, but they often face lengthy delays. Due-process rights are affected by corruption.
Political figures, including candidates, have been denied due process; 2019 presidential candidates Achmet and Soilihi were arrested for CNT-related activities that March, for example. Former president Sambi’s pretrial detention period ended in April 2019 with no progress on pending corruption charges, and he remained under house arrest at the end of 2020.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The law prohibits the illegitimate use of physical force, but security agents have engaged in excessive force, and are generally not held accountable for such behavior. There are questions about the will or capacity of the army to identify and punish abuses within its ranks.
President Azali has been the reported target of violent attacks. In March 2019, Azali was reportedly targeted in a bombing while traveling to a campaign rally, though no one was injured. Azali was also the reported target of an unsuccessful April 2020 bombing attempt; 22 people were initially charged for their alleged involvement, and 19 were in detention by May. The authorities reported that a terrorist organization was suspected of orchestrating the incident.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The law provides for equality of persons. However, same-sex sexual activity is illegal, with punishments of a fine and up to five years’ imprisonment. Few women hold positions of responsibility in business outside of elite families. Laws requiring that services be provided for people with disabilities are not well enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Internal and external freedom of movement is constitutionally and legally protected. While these rights are generally respected in practice, poverty frequently prevents travel between the islands as well as access to higher education.
The authorities introduced pandemic-related movement restrictions in March 2020, suspending travel to Mayotte and Réunion. An overnight curfew was imposed in April and remained in effect at year’s end.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
In accordance with civil and some customary laws, women have equal rights in inheritance matters. Local cultures on Grande Comore and Mohéli are matrilineal, with women legally possessing all inheritable property. However, this is complicated by the concurrent application of Sharia, interpretations of which can limit gender equality. In addition, a poor land-registration system and women’s difficulties in securing loans hampers their right to own land.
Endemic corruption and a lack of transparency hampers normal business activity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Early and forced marriages have been reported in Comoros. The law prohibits domestic violence, but courts rarely fine or order the imprisonment of convicted perpetrators, and women and children rarely file official complaints. Sexual violence and workplace harassment are believed to be widespread, but are rarely reported to authorities.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
The Comorian economy, which is primarily agricultural, relies heavily on remittances from Comorian citizens in France. Many young people struggle to find sustainable opportunities for employment. Poverty has driven many people to attempt the dangerous trip to Mayotte.
Government efforts to identify and prosecute human trafficking are minimal, and trafficking cases, if addressed, are often done so through informal mediation processes. These mechanisms have sometimes facilitated the return of trafficking victims to traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score42 100 partly free