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In January and February 2015, Comoros held competitive parliamentary elections on all three islands. The opposition criticized the election commission for inadequate preparations and alleged widespread use of state resources and state-run companies to support the campaign of President Ikililou Dhoinine’s party. The president’s party won the most seats and formed a parliamentary majority through alliances with smaller parties. The recently formed Juwa Party of former president Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was the primary opposition faction.
Sambi attempted to run in the presidential election set for early 2016 despite the country’s unique electoral system, which rotates the presidency among the islands. The next president was supposed to come from Grande Comore. At the end of 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Sambi, a native of Anjouan but a resident of Grand Comore, was ineligible to register as a candidate.
Relations between Comoros and France remain fragile, as Comoros claims the island of Mayotte—a French overseas department—as part of its territory. Large numbers of Comorans illegally migrate to the island in order to seek entry into mainland France, and the Comoran economy, which is primarily agricultural, relies heavily on remittances from Comoran citizens in France. The government announced in June 2015 that members of the diaspora, who reside predominantly in France, would be able to vote in the 2016 presidential election. However, the new policy was later withdrawn due to logistical challenges.
Political Rights: 24 / 40 (−1) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12
Under the 2001 constitution, the president is directly elected for a single five-year term, with eligibility rotating among the three islands. The three candidates who lead the vote on the designated island advance to a second, nationwide round of voting. The unicameral Assembly of the Union consists of 33 members, with 9 selected by the assemblies of the three islands and 24 by direct popular vote; all members serve five-year terms. In addition to its own assembly, each of the three islands also has a directly elected governor. A 2009 referendum approved constitutional reforms that increased the powers of the union government at the expense of the individual island governments.
Dhoinine won the presidential election in 2010 with the support of then president Sambi, taking 61 percent of the vote and becoming the first president from the island of Mohéli. Dhoinine later broke away from Sambi’s influence and created his own party, the Union for the Development of Comoros (UPDC); Sambi’s Juwa Party is now the primary opposition in the parliament. The Constitutional Court upheld the 2010 presidential election results despite irregularities reported on the island of Anjouan.
In September 2014, President Dhoinine postponed municipal, island assembly, and parliamentary elections from November 2014 to late December 2014 due to delays in meeting electoral code provisions. The first round of voting was held in January 2015 after being postponed for a second time. The national election commission was able to administer the elections, though there were a number of irregularities in the provision of biometric voter cards and the creation of a voters’ list. While international observers present during the polls deemed them calm and transparent, there were accusations of fraud.
The results left the UPDC with 11 seats in the Assembly of the Union, followed by Juwa with 10, the Democratic Rally of the Comoros (RDC) with 4, the Convention for the Renewal of the Comoros (CRC) with 2, and three smaller parties with 1 each. Three independent candidates also won seats.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 11 / 16
Comorans have voted in several parliamentary and presidential elections since 1990, though military coups and secession attempts persisted into the early 2000s. The first peaceful transfer of power through elections occurred in 2006, which also marked the first time that the presidency rotated among the islands as mandated in the 2001 constitution.
Political parties operate freely and were able to campaign with minimal impediments in the 2015 parliamentary election period. Parties are mainly formed around particular leaders and draw on island or ethnic bases of support. Parties’ platforms have historically been defined by their positions regarding the division of power between the union and local governments, though many parties focused on issues such as youth unemployment during the 2015 legislative campaign.
The government occasionally disrupts opposition parties’ activities by denying them meeting and assembly space. During the 2015 campaign period, the UPDC allegedly benefited from state resources and the assistance of state-run companies. Critics accused the state mobile telecommunications company of holding hiring blitzes as part of the campaign and directing employees to vote for the ruling party. Public-sector employment has risen in past election years.
C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12 (−1)
In April 2015, the newly installed Union of the Assembly chose its president in an irregular election that sparked accusations of an “institutional coup” from the opposition. During the vote, opposition members were prevented from accessing the chamber, at times through the intervention of security forces. The opposition parties, deeming the election illegitimate, unsuccessfully brought a case calling for the dismissal of the assembly president to the Constitutional Court.
There are reports of corruption at all levels, including in the judiciary, civil service, and security forces. In 2011, the opposition CRC, led by former president Azali Assoumani, filed a complaint in a Moroni court against Sambi for alleged misuse of public funds while in office. The allegations concerned the sale of Comoran nationality to stateless individuals residing in Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, a practice used by Gulf regimes to avoid giving their stateless residents citizenship. In 2013, a police chief was arrested and later released in connection with the scheme; no other officials have been arrested, and the police chief was able to run and win a seat in the 2015 legislative elections.
Comoros enacted a law adding more severe penalties for embezzlement of public funds in 2014, but police and court officials rarely prosecute corruption cases. Comoros was ranked 136 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 31 / 60 (+1)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 10 / 16
The constitution and laws provide for freedoms of speech and the press, though self-censorship is reportedly widespread. No journalists were arrested for their work during 2015, though a supporter of former president Sambi’s bid for reelection was arrested at a press conference in July for speech characterized as “incitement to hatred.” The government does not restrict access to the internet, but penetration remained low at about 7 percent in 2015.
Islam is the state religion, and 98 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The president appoints the grand mufti, an official government position. Tensions have occasionally arisen between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and both Shiite Muslims and non-Muslims are subject to discrimination and, more rarely, harassment and detention on criminal charges. Conversion from Islam and non-Muslim proselytizing are illegal, though such restrictions are unevenly enforced.
Academic freedom is generally respected, and there are few constraints on open and free private discussion.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12 (+1)
Freedoms of assembly and association are protected in the constitution, but the government has restricted these rights in practice. In February 2015, demonstrations over poor water and electricity services on Grande Comore resulted in an army crackdown on protesters that left seven people injured. Twenty people were detained during the protests and later released.
A few human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country, though they sometimes face obstacles. The head of the Comoran Federation of Consumers, former finance minister Mohamed Said Mchangama, was among those briefly detained for their role in protests during 2015.
Workers have the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike. In March 2015, taxi drivers in Grande Comore won concessions from the government after going on strike over road conditions and insisting that they would not pay taxes until the roads were improved.
F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16
The judicial system is based on both Sharia (Islamic law) and the French legal code, and is subject to influence by the executive branch and other elites. Minor disputes are often settled informally by village elders. In 2014, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Comoros Red Crescent began a program to improve conditions in the national prison. However, the prison, located in Moroni, is still severely overcrowded and lacks adequate sanitation, medical care, and nutrition.
In January 2015, a court sentenced 13 people to prison for planning a coup in 2013. They were released in December after a presidential pardon. The plotters included Mahamoud Ahmed Abdallah, the son of former president Ahmed Abdallah, and seven foreign nationals.
Same-sex sexual activity is punishable by fines and up to five years in prison.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 6 / 16
In 2014, Comoros passed a law guaranteeing freedom of movement for people living with HIV.
The government controls access to key services in the Comoran market, but has taken steps to allow more competition. For example, in October 2015 the Madagascar-based telecommunications company Telma was approved as the first mobile operator other than the state-run operator. Government-backed development projects sometimes sideline citizen interests and are vulnerable to bribery and corruption. Residents of a village in Grande Comore and their supporters protested during 2015 against a government deal with a French construction firm to operate a quarry in the area, which would expropriate their land.
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and the government has taken steps to improve the political participation of women. However, in practice women are still underrepresented; only one woman was elected to the Assembly of the Union in 2015. Economic inequality also remains a challenge, as women have far fewer opportunities for education and salaried employment than men, especially in rural areas. In accordance with civil and some customary laws, women have equal rights in inheritance matters. However, this is complicated by the concurrent application of Islamic law, which limits gender equality. In addition, a poor system of land registration and women’s difficulties in securing loans often negate the benefits of land ownership in practice. Sexual violence and workplace harassment are believed to be widespread, but are rarely reported to authorities.
In 2015, the government issued a new law providing penalties for the trafficking of children, who are often victims of forced labor within the country. A general update to the penal code to add provisions against trafficking in persons was passed in 2014 but has yet to be implemented.
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