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Comoros - Government

The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands -- Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali) -- and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), which France administers.

The hallmark of bad governance is lack of transparency in public affairs, above all in respect of financial, administrative, and judicial affairs, information and participation, and so on. Governance issues include decentralization, the fight against corruption, respect for human rights, justice, and citizen safety and security.

Following independence in 1975, all legislative activity was suspended under President of the Republic Ali Soilih, who was overthrown in May 1978. after which a Political-Military Directory headed by Ahmed Abdallah and Mohammed Ahmed was set up. A new Constitution providing for the establishment of a federal State was approved by popular referendum on 1 October 1978*, and went into immediate effect on the islands of Grande-Comore, Anjouan and Mohel.

In recent years, the Comoros experienced considerable political difficulties, which greatly undermined national unity. In an effort to achieve national reconciliation, the population has espoused a new Constitution, which defines a new, somewhat complex institutional framework in which particular attention must be paid to the way its democratic institutions are put in place. This institutional framework accords the islands greater autonomy and responsibilities, but poses a considerable challenge in terms of implementation and from an operational point of view. It will help to guarantee the political stability needed to boost development and combat poverty.

Decentralization of administration has never really been implemented, despite the fact that, since 1978, the country has had a constitution based on federal ideas. Following recent developments, the Union of the Comoros undertook to put in place a genuinely decentralized administration pursuant to the new Constitution of December 23, 2001, which establishes three levels of government: central (the Union of the Comoros), regional (island government), and local (Commune).

In December 2001, the draft Constitution, which called for the reincorporation of Anjouan, Grande Comoros, and Moheli into a new federation that would grant the islands greater autonomy, was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum described by international observers as free and fair. The Union presidency rotates among the 3 islands; president directly elected by simple majority popular vote in 2 rounds for a single nonrenewable 5-year term (in the first round or primary, 3 candidates with the highest vote count by voters on the island concerned compete in the second round. The constitution thus restricts those eligible to run for the union presidency to those residing on a particular island in an election year. Aside from the rotation principle, anyone meeting constitutional requirements of age, residency, citizenship, and good moral character may run for office.

Under the terms of the Constitution, elections initially were set for March; however, Colonel Azali delayed declaring his candidacy and the elections were postponed until April. Each of the three islands that constituted the Union has a separate elected President.

The Constitution provided that the Legislative Assembly would be composed of 33 members. Of these, citizens elect directly 18, and the Government will appoint 15 (5 per island). Legislative Assembly elections were scheduled for March 2003.

By law the president nominates the grand mufti, the senior Muslim cleric who is part of the government and manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The grand muftis position is attached to the Ministry of Justice, Public Service, Administrative Reforms, Human Rights, and Islamic Affairs, and he counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law. The grand mufti chairs and periodically consults with the Council of Ulemas, a group of religious elders cited in the constitution, to assess whether citizens are respecting the principles of Islam.

The law requires children between the ages of three and six to attend Quranic schools, either private or government-run, to instill moral, cultural, and Islamic values and to familiarize the child with the Arabic language. There are no penalties prescribed for failing to send children to these schools. There is no other provision for religious education in public schools. The government does not require the children of foreigners to receive Islamic instruction or Arabic language training.

Justice is a key element in a legally constituted state. It preserves the public peace by settling conflicts between individuals; it interprets the law, replaces private vengeance with legal punishment, reduces the social disruption caused by crime, and, through its decisions, safeguards individual liberties. In the Comoros, the justice system faces enormous structural and functional problems which impair its effectiveness and prevent it from performing its role as the defender of rights and freedoms, particularly vis--vis vulnerable segments of the population.

The origins of Comorian law have engendered a legal system in which several layers are superimposed, including Islamic law, the laws passed by the Comorian parliament, and customary law. It would seem wise to recommend bringing them into line with the provisions of the regional pacts, treaties, and conventions ratified by the Comoros.

The Comorian judicial system has to contend with numerous structural and operational difficulties and is gravely deficient in the performance of its functions, above all with respect to protecting vulnerable individuals, especially the poor. Efforts have been made in recent years to set up jurisdictions all over the national territory and, in particular, to establish a Justice of the Peace in each prefecture, supplemented in the administrative centers of each canton by a local court in which judges could hold itinerant hearings. However, only the higher level courts (one per island) are operating, along with a few cadi (Muslim official) jurisdictions, which almost exclusively deal with personal status issues.





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