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Following two successive referenda in 2011, Liechtenstein rejected full legalization of abortion, which remains a criminal act, and rebuffed a same-sex registered-partnership bill passed by Parliament in March.
Liechtenstein was established as a principality in 1719 and gained its sovereignty in 1806. Since 1995, the country has been a member of the European Economic Area, a free-trade area that links the non-European Union (EU) members of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein with the EU. From 1938 to 1997, it was governed by a coalition of the Progressive Citizens’ Party (FBP) and the Fatherland Union, now the Patriotic Union (VU). The latter party then ruled alone until the FBP won the 2001 elections.
In a 2003 referendum, voters approved a constitutional amendment that granted significantly more power to the hereditary monarch, Prince Hans-Adam II. In 2004, Hans-Adam handed his constitutional powers to his son, Prince Alois, though the elder prince retained his title as head of state. Following the 2005 parliamentary elections, the conservative FBP and the liberal VU formed a grand coalition, and FBP leader Otmar Hasler retained his post as prime minister.
In the February 2009 parliamentary elections, the VU won 13 seats and the FBP captured 11, while a small third party, the social-democrat Free List, took the remaining seat. The VU’s Klaus Tschütscher, who replaced Hasler as prime minister in March, maintained the coalition government with the FBP.
Liechtenstein, a leading offshore tax haven, has traditionally maintained tight bank secrecy laws. However, in 2009, the principality signed agreements with several countries and agreed to comply with transparency and tax information-sharing standards, as outlined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Following a 2009 agreement with the United Kingdom, Liechtenstein passed laws in July 2010 which will oblige those holding offshore accounts in the country to declare their assets to tax authorities and pay as much as 10 percent in taxes evaded over the past 10 years.
Liechtenstein is an electoral democracy. However, the unelected monarch is the most politically powerful in Europe. The prince, as the hereditary head of state, appoints the prime minister on the recommendation of Parliament and possesses the power to veto legislation and dismiss the government. At the same time, freely elected representatives determine the policies of the government, and the unicameral Parliament (Landtag) consists of 25 deputies chosen by proportional representation every four years. Voting is compulsory.
Political parties are able to freely organize. The VU and the FBP have dominated politics over the last half-century.
Liechtenstein’s politics and society are largely free of corruption, and the country continues to work to build sufficient mechanisms to fight money laundering in its banking system. Due to recent commitments, the OECD removed Liechtenstein from its list of uncooperative tax havens in 2009. Government officials are not legally obligated to disclose their financial assets.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression, though the law prohibits public insults directed against a race or ethnic group. Freedom of the press is also guaranteed. Liechtenstein has one private television station, one privately-held radio station and two main newspapers, which are roughly aligned with the major political parties. Foreign newspapers and magazines are widely available to the population, as are television and radio broadcasts from outside the country. Internet access is not restricted.
The constitution protects religious freedom and the criminal code prohibits any form of discrimination against any religion or its adherents. However, the constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state national religion. Catholic or Protestant religious education is mandatory in all primary schools, but exemptions are routinely granted. Islamic religious classes have been introduced in some primary schools since 2008. All religious groups are tax-exempt. The government respects academic freedom.
Freedoms of assembly and association are protected, and the principality has one small trade union. A 2008 law provides civil servants with the right to strike.
The judiciary is independent and impartial despite the appointment of judges by the hereditary monarch. Due process is respected, and prison conditions meet international standards. Most detainees are asylum seekers who entered the country illegally and are being detained prior to their deportation. Switzerland is responsible for Liechtenstein’s customs and defense.
A third of the population is foreign born. Some native citizens have expressed concern over the growing number of immigrants from non-German-speaking countries, such as Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The government has responded by seeking to teach recent immigrants the language and culture of Liechtenstein in formal integration programs. Foreigners have occasionally been the target of violence by right-wing groups. The laws in Liechtenstein provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, though in 2010 the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) voiced concern that asylum seekers’ claims do not always receive adequate attention. In August 2011, the CAT released a report amending its position on Liechtenstein’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, noting that some of its previous criticisms against the country had not been justified, and some of its recommendations had been implemented.
Women enjoy the same legal rights as men. Nonetheless, gender discrimination has continued to limit opportunities for women in fields traditionally dominated by men, and a gender salary gap still exists, with women earning on average only 80 percent of men's pay for equal work. Following a 2005 reform, abortion has been legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only in cases where the mother's life is in danger or the woman was under 14 at the time she got pregnant. A referendum on allowing the full legalization of abortion in the country was held on September 18, 2011, but was rejected by more than 52 percent of voters. Prince Alois had already signaled his intention to veto the referendum had it passed. In March, Parliament passed a law allowing same-sex registered partnerships, though it was overturned in a June referendum by nearly 70 percent of voters.