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Comoros - Politics

The Comoros islands - Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli - has been prone to coups and political insurrection since its independence from France in 1975. The fourth Comoros island, Mayotte, remains French. Comoros, with about 800,000 people and a $600 million economy, had more than 20 coups or attempts at seizing power since it gained independencein. In April 1999, army commander Colonel Azali staged a bloodless coup and overthrew President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde. The archipelago witnessed tension since 1997 in a crisis caused by the drive for unilateral secession of two of the three islands Moheli and Anjouan. In May 1999, Azali decreed a constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. In December 1999, in response to international criticism, Azali appointed a civilian prime minister, Bianrifi Tarmidi; however, Azali remained the Head of State and army Commander in Chief.

Also in August 2000, Azali and separatist leader Abeid signed the Fomboni Declaration. The declaration called for the creation of a new Comorian entity, in which the islands would share a common policy on religion, nationality, currency, foreign relations, and defense. The opposition parties initially refused to participate, but in December 2000, they met with the Azali Government and the African Union (AU) began mediating negotiations.

In response to pressure to restore civilian rule, the Government organized several committees to draft a new constitution, including the August 2000 National Congress and November 2000 Tripartite Commission. The opposition parties initially refused to participate in the Tripartite Commission, but in February 2001, representatives of the Government, the Anjouan separatists, the political opposition, and civil society organizations signed a "Framework Accord for Reconciliation in Comoros," brokered by the AU.

The Accord called for the creation of a new Tripartite Commission for National Reconciliation to develop a "New Comorian Entity" with a new Constitution. In August 2001, representatives from each island debated a draft Constitution. An ongoing debate between the President of the Union and the individual island presidents over the division of powers between the competing presidencies was unresolved. There were no bans in effect on political parties, which continued to criticize the Government openly and without penalty. There were 21 political parties in the country; 5 parties represented the Government, and 16 parties represented the opposition. Village chiefs and Muslim religious leaders tended to dominate local politics. Traditional social, religious, and economic institutions also affected the country's political life in important ways. Since 2002, Comoros has been ruled by democratically elected leaders. It has a unique system under the 2001 constitution, wherein the office of the presidency rotates every 4 years between the three main islands. On 21 December 2003 Comoros leaders and representatives of its semi-autonomous islands agreed on a power-sharing formula, paving the way for postponed elections in the Indian Ocean nationComoros leaders and representatives of its semi-autonomous islands agreed on a power-sharing formula, paving the way for postponed elections in the Indian Ocean nation.

Leaders signed the deal at the end of a regional summit, chaired by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, and which was aimed at resolving a political crisis that had dogged the islands since 1997. The deal provided for an equitable distribution of tax and customs revenue among the islands and gives control of the army to the union government, leaving command of the police to the autonomous islands. Thus, in the elections in December 2010, only those originating from the island of Moheli were eligible to run for the presidency. In 2014 the turn fell to those originating from Grande Comore.

Given the political environment in the Union of the Comoros, it was not easy to achieve a national awareness of the issues inherent in security reform and consolidation of the achievements of the national reconciliation process.

Colonel Azali, who had seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, had been elected as President in April 2002 in elections boycotted by the opposition parties. Since gaining independence from France in 1975, Comoros has witnessed over 20 coup attempts. The April 2002 presidential elections were characterized as free and fair by international observers. Under the terms of the Constitution, a president will be elected from a different island every 4 years, based on a rotating schedule. In this year's elections, the primaries were held only on Grande Comore, as the first president under the Constitution must be a Grande Comorian. Three candidates advanced from the primary to the general election in which President Azali was elected with approximately 75 percent of the vote.

The parliamentary elections held on 18 and 25 April 2004 were the last phase of the national reconciliation process intended inter alias to complete the country's transition to a federal democracy. In elections held in April 2004, President Assoumani Azali's Convention for the Renewal of the Comoros (CRC) lost to the opposition coalition, the Camp of the Autonomous Islands (CdA). The former won six and the latter 12 of the 18 directly elected seats in the 33-member Assembly of the Union.

In May 2006, religious leader Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was elected President; he pledged to defend Islam and fight terrorism and organized crime. Mohamed Sambi, originating from the island of Anjouan, came to power in 2006 elections that were deemed generally free and fair, taking over from President Azali, who initially came to power in a coup [he was elected in 2002 after resigning his military commission termined by simple majority vote by voters on all 3 islands].

In 17 May 2009 a referendum was held with 93.8 percent of voters approved amendments extending the term of the Federal President from four to five years, downgrading the presidents of the three constituent islands to governor, and authorizing the Federal President to dissolve the Assembly of the Union, 24 members of which will henceforth be directly elected. President Sambi, whose term was due to end in May 2010, would remain in power until 2011.

Ikililou Dhoinine, a vice president and the favored candidate of the incumbent president, was elected in December 2010 in a vote that was deemed generally free and fair. Though some irregularities were noted on the island of Anjouan, they were determined not to have changed the outcome of the vote. Dhoinine officially took office in May 2011. Dhoinine's completion of his five-year term in the archipelago was seen as a sign of growing stability in the Comoros in recent years.

Election were held on 21 February 2016 and second round held 10 April 2016, including presidential and gubernatorial elections. The first round took place only on Grande Comore island, in accordance with electoral rules that ensure the president is chosen on a rotating basis from the three main islands. The second round of the presidential election came after Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi - known as Mamadou - won the first round in February with 17.88 percent of the vote. The two other contenders are the governor of Grande Comore island, Mouigni Baraka, who garnered 15.62 percent in the first round, and 1999 coup leader Colonel Azali Assoumani, who took 15.10 percent. A Constitutional Court ruling in March 2017 upheld the first-round results after 19 of the 25 candidates alleged fraud.

Assoumani was seen as Mamadou's main rival after he was endorsed by the opposition Juwa party, which has no candidate in the second round. The Juwa party split over the endorsement, and 15 high-ranking party officials resigned to rally behind Mamadou, who is viewed as the establishment choice.

Incumbent candidates claimed some irregularities, including the theft of ballots on Anjouan. They filed complaints at the Constitutional Court requesting the vote be repeated for both presidential and gubernatorial candidates by the approximately 3,000 voters in Anjouan whose ballots were allegedly destroyed by the opposition. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and a third round of voting was successfully conducted at 13 polling stations in Anjouan.

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