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Montenegro

Executive Summary

Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system. Voters choose both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. The president nominates, and the parliament approves, the prime minister. The observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) stated that the 2016 parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The opposition coalition did not accept the election results and began a continuing boycott of parliament, although all but two parties have since returned. On April 15, Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists, was elected president of the country, winning approximately 54 percent of the vote in the first round. This is his second term as president, having additionally served six terms as prime minister. The OSCE/ODIHR, the European Parliament delegation, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the April 15 election proceeded in an orderly manner but had a few minor irregularities that did not affect the outcome. Despite opposition protests, elections were generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; trafficking in persons; attacks on journalists; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Impunity remained a problem, since the government did not punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held presidential elections on April 15. In its final report on June 28, the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission noted that, although the candidate nominated by the governing party held an institutional advantage, fundamental freedoms were respected. Candidates campaigned freely and the media provided the contestants with a platform to present their views. The technical aspects of the election were adequately managed, although observers noted the transparency and professionalism of the State Election Commission remained issues of concern. Election day proceeded in an orderly manner despite a few observed procedural irregularities.

In 2016 the special prosecutor stated that law enforcement authorities prevented an attempted attack on the government on the October 16 election day. The special prosecutor accused 14 persons, including the leaders of the opposition coalition Democratic Front (DF), Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, of attempting to overthrow the government violently in order to proclaim electoral victory for the DF and prevent the country from joining the NATO alliance. Parliament voted to strip Mandic and Knezevic’s parliamentary immunity, and both were subsequently indicted for this crime. The case continued during the year.

Twelve opposition members of parliament disputing the results of the 2016 parliamentary elections continued to boycott parliament.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Nebojsa Medojevic, one of the leaders of the pro-Russian opposition DF alliance, together with 11 others, began trial for alleged money laundering linked to DF financing during the 2016 elections. Two other DF leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, and 12 others were also standing trial on separate charges of involvement in an alleged coup plot during the 2016 elections. The DF accused the prosecutor’s office of acting under the influence of the ruling DPS party and bringing false charges against the DF.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws formally limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. All minority groups had representatives in the parliament except the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians, who remained unrepresented in spite of a law that provides representation to minority groups that win less than 3 percent of the vote or constitute less than 15 percent of the population. The law also provides for positive discrimination in the allocation of electoral seats at the municipal level for minorities constituting 1.5 to 15 percent of the population. However, there were no political representatives of the Roma, Ashkali, or Balkan Egyptians at the municipal level.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made substantial efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The country is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister). According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government.

The law provides for, and citizens participated in, free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage for parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and municipal and regional councils. Regional and professional bodies indirectly elected members of parliament’s less powerful Chamber of Counselors.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held direct elections for the Chamber of Representatives (the more powerful lower house of parliament). The major political parties and domestic observers considered the elections free, fair, and transparent. International observers considered the elections credible, noting voters were able to choose freely and the process was free of systemic irregularities. As stipulated by the constitution, the king tasked the Party of Justice and Development, which won the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected a record number of women in the 2016 elections, although very few subsequently won leadership positions as ministers or parliamentary committee presidents.

Portugal

Executive Summary

Portugal, which includes the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, is a constitutional semipresidential representative democracy with a president, prime minister, and parliament elected in multiparty elections. Observers considered presidential elections in 2016 and local government elections in 2017 free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses during the year.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held a presidential election that observers considered free and fair. The local government elections of October 2017 were also considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the Amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2015 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members are appointed by the Amir, including the prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on the freedom of movement for migrant workers’ travel abroad; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reports of forced labor that the government took steps to address.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The Amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. In 2016 the Amir issued a decree extending the term of the appointed Shura Council, the country’s titular legislative body, by three years.

The constitutional provisions for electing two-thirds of the Shura Council members and initiation of legislation by the Shura Council remain unimplemented.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 citizens elected the 29 members of the fourth Central Municipal Council, including two women, to four-year terms. The council advises the minister of municipality and urban affairs on local public services. Foreign diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities or fraud in the elections, although voter registration was lower than authorities expected.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not permit the organization of political parties, and there were no attempts to form them during the year. Voting is open to all citizens who are at least 18 years old, including those who have been naturalized for at least 15 years; members of the armed services and employees of the Ministry of Interior may not vote.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although traditional attitudes and societal roles continued to limit women’s participation in politics, women served in various roles in public office, such as minister of public health, chair of the Qatar Foundation, head of the Qatar Museum Authority, permanent representative to the United Nations, and ambassadors to Croatia and the Holy See. In November 2017 the Amir appointed four women to the Shura Council for the first time in the legislative body’s history. Noncitizen residents are banned from participating in political affairs, although they serve as judges and staffers at government ministries.

Romania

Executive Summary

Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. The country held parliamentary elections in 2016 that observers generally considered to be free and fair and without irregularities. In 2014 the country held presidential elections in which electoral observers noted irregularities, including insufficient polling stations for the large diaspora community.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included endemic official corruption and police violence against the Roma.

The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse. The result was that many of the cases ended in acquittals.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and mostly fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in 2016 that were considered free and fair by international observers. In 2014 the country held presidential elections in which electoral observers noted irregularities, including insufficient polling stations for the large diaspora community.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to register with the Bucharest Tribunal and to submit their statutes, program, and a roster of at least three members. Critics asserted that certain requirements undermine the right to association. These include the requirement that parties field candidates–by themselves or in alliance–in at least 75 electoral constituencies in two successive local elections or that they field a full slate of candidates in at least one county or partial slates of candidates in a minimum of three counties in two successive parliamentary elections. A party’s statutes and program must not include ideas that incite war; discrimination; hatred of a national, racist, or religious nature; or territorial separatism.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Societal attitudes presented a significant barrier, and women remained underrepresented in positions of authority. For example, as of September 1, there were 68 women in the 261-seat Chamber of Deputies and 19 women in the 136-seat Senate.

Under the constitution each recognized ethnic minority is entitled to a representative in the Chamber of Deputies. An organization is required, however, to receive votes equal to 5 percent of the national average number of votes cast by district for a deputy to be elected. The list of organizations that benefit from these provisions is limited to those that are already part of a National Council of Minorities, which consists of organizations already in parliament. The law sets more stringent requirements for minority organizations without a presence in parliament. To participate in elections, such organizations must provide the Central Electoral Bureau a membership list equal to at least 15 percent of the total number of persons belonging to that ethnic group, as determined by the most recent census. If this number amounts to more than 20,000 persons, the organization must submit a list with at least 20,000 names distributed among a minimum of 15 counties plus the city of Bucharest, with no fewer than 300 persons from each county. Some organizations and individuals, particularly Romani activists, claimed this rule was discriminatory.

Ethnic Hungarians, represented by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania political party, were the sole ethnic minority to gain parliamentary representation by surpassing the 5 percent threshold of all valid votes cast nationally, the threshold set for political parties. One Romani organization, Roma Party-Pro Europe, had a single representative in parliament.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive. The March 18 presidential election and the 2016 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

Except in rare cases, security forces generally reported to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities, however, had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The country’s occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement personnel that sometimes resulted in death and sometimes involved punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary or unjust arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations;” severe restrictions on religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; credible reports of refoulement; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; trafficking in persons; government decriminalization of domestic abuse, which created an atmosphere of impunity for domestic violence against women; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against LGBTI persons and members of ethnic minorities.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access media outlets, and conduct political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 18 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections were marred by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.

The OSCE reported the March 18 presidential election “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.” The OSCE also noted, “television, and in particular broadcasters that are state-founded, owned, or supported, remains the dominant source of political information. A restrictive legislative and regulatory framework challenges freedom of the media and induces self-censorship…Voters were thus not presented with a critical assessment of the incumbent’s views and qualifications in most media.” Observers widely noted that the most serious potential challenger, Navalny, was prevented from registering his candidacy due to a previous criminal conviction that appeared politically motivated.

In a statement on the 2016 State Duma elections, the OSCE’s election observation mission noted, “Democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society…Local authorities did not always treat the contestants equally, and instances of misuse of administrative resources were noted. The election day generally proceeded in an orderly manner, but numerous procedural irregularities were noted during counting.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The process for nominating candidates for office was highly regulated and placed significant burdens on opposition candidates and political parties. While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, and submit the signatures to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for certification. Nominees from parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures. An independent candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures to be invalid.

Candidates to the State Duma can be nominated directly by constituents, by political parties in single-mandate districts, by political parties on their federal list, or may be self-nominated. Political parties select candidates for the federal lists from their ranks during party conventions via closed voting procedures. Party conventions also select single mandate candidates. Only political parties that overcame the 5 percent threshold during the previous elections may form federal and single mandate candidate lists without collecting signatures, while parties that did not must collect 200,000 signatures to register a candidate. Self-nominated candidates generally must gather 3 percent of voters’ signatures in their districts.

Gubernatorial candidates nominated by registered political parties are not required to collect signatures from members of the public, although self-nominated candidates are. The law also requires gubernatorial candidates not nominated by a registered party to meet a “municipal filter” requirement. Such candidates must obtain signatures of support from a defined portion of municipal deputies, the portion of which varies by region, as well as collect signatures from at least one deputy in each of a specified portion of municipal council districts.

Observers and would-be candidates said the municipal filter was not applied equally, and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures to candidates who were not preapproved by authorities. They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter. The election monitoring group Golos also stated that independent candidates were not able to collect the necessary number of municipal deputy signatures as a result of pressure from authorities. During the year the filter prohibited opposition candidates Dmitriy Gudkov and Ilya Yashin from participating in the Moscow mayoral elections.

In some cases opposition parties were repeatedly denied registration. On August 27, authorities denied opposition leader Navalny’s application to register a political party for the fifth time in five years, a decision observers believed to be politically motivated.

Authorities sought to restrict the work of independent monitors and promote government-sponsored monitoring. Observers are prohibited from being accredited to more than one polling station, limiting the ability of civil society to monitor elections. Critics contended that the law made it difficult for domestic election monitors to conduct surprise inspections due to provisions requiring observers to register with authorities, including the polling station they intend to monitor, three days before elections. Burdensome registration regulations also hampered the work of journalists wishing to monitor elections as well as independent or nonparty-affiliated groups, whose monitors registered as journalists for their affiliated publications. On March 7, the CEC denied observer accreditation to 850 observers with the Golos-affiliated media outlet Molniya as well as 4,500 observers with the Navalny-affiliated media outlet Leviathan.

Authorities continued to hamper the efforts of Golos, whose work was curtailed by a law prohibiting NGOs listed as “foreign agents,” from taking part in the election process as well as by continuing harassment and intimidation by authorities.

On January 16, the country’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, announced that it would no longer publish the results of its opinion polls on the March presidential elections, fearing legal repercussions. The center had been designated a “foreign agent” in 2016, barring it from participating in election-related work. The center’s director expressed fears the government would forcibly close the pollster if it were to publish its election polling data.

Once elected, many opposition politicians reported efforts by the ruling party to undermine their work or remove them from office. For example, on May 22, the independent mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeniy Roizman, resigned from office after the city’s legislature voted to abolish mayoral elections. Observers saw the change as designed to ensure that a progovernment official occupied the position.

Opposition politicians often faced violence and threats. Media outlets described a spate of threats and attacks on independent municipal deputies who had won seats in the Moscow city district councils in 2017, including several vandalism incidents involving severed pig heads being left in their homes and vehicles. In June an unknown assailant poured motor oil on independent Moscow local city council member Anastasia Muralova shortly after she had successfully halted street repairs in the district that were being carried out illegally without a contract.

Authorities continued to engage in a pattern of harassment, including threats of violence, against opposition leader Navalny and his supporters (see sections 1.d., 2.a., and 2.b.). On September 24, Navalny’s press secretary stated that, since the start of the year, Navalny had been arrested five times and spent 120 days in jail. On November 15, the ECHR upheld a previous decision that found rights violations in Navalny’s seven arrests and two instances of pretrial detentions between 2012 and 2014. They noted these arrests “lacked a legitimate aim,” and “had not been necessary in a democratic society.” On September 11, the head of the National Guard, Viktor Zolotov, challenged Navalny to a duel and threatened to make a “nice, juicy steak” out of him.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and the 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces including asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats to and violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the SSF was a problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but government restrictions on the formation of opposition parties and harassment of critics and political dissidents limited that ability. The law provides for voting by secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary–but not local–elections. The RPF and allied parties controlled the government and legislature, and RPF candidates dominated elections at all levels.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In September the government held parliamentary elections for all 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. Of those, 53 seats were filled through general voting on September 3. The remaining 27 seats were reserved for women, youth, and persons with disabilities and were allocated by special electoral colleges on September 2 and September 4. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) claimed that 6.6 million voters participated in the September 3 vote, which equated to a 93 percent turnout. According to the NEC, the RPF coalition won 74 percent of the vote and was awarded 40 of the 53 contested seats. The RPF-allied Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party claimed five and four seats, respectively. The DGPR and the PS-Imberakuri were awarded two seats each. Neither the DGPR nor PS-Imberakuri was represented in the previous parliament.

As had been the case in 2017 when the NEC announced that voters had re-elected President Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote, irregularities and instances of ballot stuffing undermined confidence in the integrity of the results. Observers were unable to effectively monitor the process of vote tabulation at polling stations and vote consolidation at the sector, district, and national levels due to inconsistent levels of access and transparency. Ballots were not numbered or adequately controlled and accounted for, either at the individual polling station, or at the sector, district, or national level. Observers noted that reported results in some polling rooms exceeded the number of voters observed throughout the day. Some independent aspirants experienced difficulties in obtaining the number of signatures required to register their candidacies ahead of the elections. For example, some independent candidates reported residents and local authorities attempted to prevent them from gathering signatures in certain areas. Four independent candidates managed to qualify for the ballot, but the compressed three-week campaign timeline and the prohibition on fundraising prior to the NEC’s certification of candidacies severely hampered their ability to compete against registered parties. Of the four independent candidates, none received enough votes to obtain a seat in the chamber.

In 2015 the government held a referendum on a set of constitutional amendments that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office. The NEC reported 98 percent of registered voters participated, and 98 percent endorsed the amendments. The text of the amendments was not generally available to voters for review prior to the referendum, and political parties opposed to the amendments were not permitted to hold rallies or public meetings to express their opposition to the amendments.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system but provides few rights for parties and their candidates. There were some reports that youth attending mandatory “ingando” civic and military training camps received instruction on RPF principles and were pressured to join the RPF. There were also reports local authorities pressured citizens to join the RPF or donate to the party. Political parties allied to the RPF were largely able to operate freely, but members faced legal sanctions if found guilty of engaging in divisive acts, destabilizing national unity, threatening territorial integrity, or undermining national security. DGPR officials reported that local authorities harassed DGPR members and pressured them to quit the party. Some members of other opposition parties faced arbitrary detention and, in some cases, intimidation and physical abuse.

The DGPR was registered officially as a political party in 2013, after the government blocked its attempts to register in 2009 and 2010. DGPR president Frank Habineza unsuccessfully challenged President Kagame in the 2017 presidential election, the first election in which the DGPR participated. DGPR leaders reported that in the run-up to the September parliamentary election, government officials harassed many of the DGPR’s nominees and pressured them to abandon their candidacies. Once the official campaign season began, however, the DGPR was generally permitted to hold campaign events without interference.

The government no longer required, but strongly encouraged, all registered political parties to join the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations. The forum sought to promote consensus among political parties and required member parties to support publicly policy positions developed through dialogue. At year’s end all 11 registered parties were members of the organization. Government officials praised it for promoting political unity, while critics argued it stifled political competition and public debate.

In accordance with the constitution, which states a majority party in the Chamber of Deputies may not fill more than 50 percent of cabinet positions, independents and members of other political parties allied with the RPF held key positions in government, including that of prime minister and foreign minister. As of September 14, the PS-Imberakuri and the DGPR were not represented in the cabinet.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty parliamentary democracy and federation. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The governor general is the queen’s representative in the country and certifies all legislation on her behalf. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable self-government under a premier. In the 2015 national elections, Team Unity, a coalition of three opposition parties, won seven of the 11 elected seats in the legislature. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was elected prime minister. Independent observers from the Organization of the American States (OAS) concluded the election was generally free and fair but called for electoral reform, noting procedural difficulties in the election process resulted in the slow transmission of results.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included child abuse and criminalization of same-sex activity between men, although the law was not enforced during the year.

The government took steps to prosecute and convict officials who committed abuses, but some cases remained unresolved.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voters elect 11 members of the National Assembly, and the governor general appoints a three-person Senate: two on the recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the opposition leader.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2015 elections, Team Unity, a coalition of three political parties, defeated the previously ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and won seven of the elected seats in the legislature. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was elected prime minister. OAS observers generally labeled the elections as free and fair but indicated that procedures for the release of voter lists needed to be improved.

The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-government with its own premier and legislature, and it has the right to secede from the federation in accordance with certain enumerated procedures. In 2017 Nevis held local elections in which voters elected Concerned Citizens’ Movement candidate Mark Brantley as the premier of Nevis for a five-year term. The elections were generally free and fair, although officials released voter lists late in some districts.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Individuals anecdotally reported that the government monitored the activities of opposition parties and citizens perceived to be aligned with the opposition or against the policies of the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. In free and fair elections in 2016, the United Workers Party (UWP) won 11 of the 17 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the previously ruling Saint Lucia Labor Party. UWP leader Allen Chastanet became prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violence against suspects and prisoners by police and prison officers, and criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between adults, although the law was not enforced during the year.

Although the government took limited steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In elections in 2016, the UWP defeated the Saint Lucia Labor Party, winning 11 of 17 parliamentary seats. UWP leader Allen Chastanet, who previously led the opposition, became prime minister. The previous administration did not invite international election observation missions but permitted election observers.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of the government. In 2015 Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was elected to a fourth consecutive term. International observers assessed the election as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included the criminalization of libel; the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between men (which was not enforced during the year); two cases of violence against LGBTI persons; and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and punish officials who committed abuses, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity for security force members.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 voters returned to office the ruling United Labour Party, giving it eight of the 15 elected seats in the unicameral House of Assembly (which also includes six appointed senators). The opposition New Democratic Party maintained its seven seats. International observers from the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States declared the elections generally free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition party members claimed the government restricted the use of public buildings for political events but used government facilities to hold United Labour Party functions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women held only three of 23 legislative seats.

Samoa

Executive Summary

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Although the unicameral parliament is elected by universal suffrage, only matai (heads of extended families) may be members. In 2016 voters elected a new parliament, confirming Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in office. The elections were free and fair on the day, but the matai requirement and the questionable disqualification of candidates caused some observers to question the fairness of the outcome.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of same-sex conduct although the law was not enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2016 general election free and fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled three seats, not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election, plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on grounds including cash and non-cash bribery, during the campaign. Of the six, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one for lack of evidence. Bribery, village pressure, and the threat of countersuits were reportedly cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution gives all citizens older than age 21 the right to vote; however, only persons with a matai title, the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families, may run for parliament or serve on village councils. Matai were appointed, not elected, to the councils.

In addition to the restrictions favoring matai, the 2016 election was the first to require all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run. The law sought to ensure that candidates fulfilled cultural and other commitments to their village and could not just use their matai status or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes. The amendment led to a number of court petitions and the disqualification of five candidates deemed not to have met the requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since monotaga is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) in different villages. Some saw such subjective disqualifications as human rights abuses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Four women won seats in parliament outright in 2016. A 50th seat was added to parliament to ensure that the constitutionally mandated 10 percent female representation in parliament was observed. The seat went to the unsuccessful woman candidate with the highest percentage of votes in her constituency. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10 percent of matai were women. Of the five female members of parliament, the ruling party appointed Fiame Naomi Mataafa deputy prime minister, a first for the country.

San Marino

Executive Summary

The Republic of San Marino is a multiparty democracy. The popularly elected, unicameral Great and General Council (parliament) selects two of its members to serve as captains regent (co-heads of state). They preside over meetings of the council and the Congress of State (cabinet), which has no more than 10 other members (secretaries of state), selected by the council. Observers considered the parliamentary elections in 2016 to be generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2016 parliamentary elections to be generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Both captains regent in power until April were women, but the cabinet did not include any other women.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In 2016 voters elected President Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho as head of state. In legislative elections on October 7, the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party of Prime Minister Patrice Emery Trovoada won 25 of 55 National Assembly seats, the Liberation Movement of STP/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD) won 23 seats, the coalition of the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), Democratic Movement of Forces for Change/Liberal Party (MDFM) and Democratic Union for Development (UDD) won five seats, and the Independent Citizens’ Movement won two seats. International observers deemed the legislative election generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included an unlawful killing by police; excessive use of force, including beatings, by police; and widespread domestic violence against women, where government lack of action for prosecution and accountability contributed to an atmosphere of impunity.

While the government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses, authorities rarely punished those officials, and impunity was a problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Members of opposition parties feared retribution for expressing their opinions and criticism of the government openly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held legislative elections on October 7. The ruling ADI party won 25 seats (eight less than in 2014) of the 55 total, the MLSTP/PSD won 23, the Coalition of PCD-MDFM-UDD won five, and the Independent Citizens Movement won two seats for Caue. International observers deemed the legislative election transparent and well organized. The election was generally free and fair. In 2016 voters elected President Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho as head of state. Because Carvalho received fewer than 50 percent of the votes in the first round (49.8 percent), a second round of voting was required. The incumbent, Manuel Pinto de Costa (who received 24.8 percent of the first round vote), boycotted the second round, leaving Carvalho to run unopposed. International observers deemed the presidential election generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections. For the first time, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates in these municipal elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents. There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

Government agents carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. King Salman pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank. Several officials were removed from their positions, and on November 15, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) announced the indictment of 11 suspects. The PPO announced it would seek the death penalty for five of the suspects charged with murder and added that an additional 10 suspects were under further investigation. At year’s end the PPO had not named the suspects nor the roles allegedly played by them in the killing, nor had they provided a detailed explanation of the direction and progress of the investigation. In other cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.

The country continued air operations in Yemen as leader of a military coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 forceful takeover of the Republic of Yemen’s government institutions and facilities by Houthi militias and security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on a number of occasions, and the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, reported that some coalition airstrikes caused disproportionate collateral damage. Houthi-aligned militias carried out cross-border raids into Saudi territory and fired missiles and artillery into Saudi Arabia throughout the year, killing and injuring Saudi civilians. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, established by the Saudi government and based in Riyadh, investigated allegations of civilian casualties, published recommendations, and in some cases promised to provide compensation to affected families, although no prosecutions occurred.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve four-year terms. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18 years. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations,” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically. In November 2017 implementing regulations for the 2017 counterterrorism law were published; however, implementation regulations for the 2014 counterterrorism law (issued by the Ministry of Interior in March 2014) remain in place, as they explicitly and specifically banned a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Gender discrimination excluded women from many aspects of public life. Women slowly but increasingly participated in political life, albeit at a disadvantage, in part due to guardianship laws requiring a male guardian’s permission for legal decisions, restrictions on women candidates’ contact with male voters in the 2015 elections, and the ban on women driving, which the government lifted in June. In the 2015 municipal elections, women made up less than 10 percent of the final list of registered voters, according to HRW.

In 2013 former king Abdullah issued a royal decree changing the governance of the Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws. The changes mandate that women constitute no less than 20 percent of the membership of the Consultative Council. In accordance with the law, in 2013 the council inducted 30 women as full members.

Women were routinely excluded from formal decision-making positions in both government and the private sector, although some women attained leadership positions in business and served in senior advisory positions within government ministries. Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. The Ministry of Justice, however, announced in February that it was planning to hire 300 women as social, legal, and sharia researchers and administrative assistants in the first stage of its female employment program, following a decision by Minister of Justice Walid Al-Samaani to find vacancies for Saudi women in four sectors. As of November 14, the ministry appointed at least 213 female employees. On February 12, the PPO announced it would recruit women as lieutenant investigators for the first time. Furthermore, women lawyers were granted the right to obtain a notarization permit that allows them to assume some of the functions of public notaries effective March 12.

In August the General Authority of Civil Aviation issued five licenses to Saudi female pilots, permitting them to work as captains on Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft.

On September 10, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed 41 female employees to leadership positions in the women’s public administration.

During the year the most senior position held by a woman in government was Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development Tamadur Al-Rammah. She was also appointed supervisor of the Social Welfare and Family Agency.

The country had an increasing number of female diplomats. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes.

In February the General Directorate of Public Security allowed women to apply to join the military in the enlisted ranks.

No laws prevent citizen males from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking cabinet-level position, and Bedouins can only reach the rank of major general in the armed forces. All cabinet members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Consultative Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. In contrast with previous years, the cabinet contained one religious minority member. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia were concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall as president for a seven-year term, in elections local and international observers considered to be free and fair. In July 2017 Sall’s coalition won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the legislative election as largely free and fair despite significant irregularities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; lack of judicial independence; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and forced labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a sixth year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts and skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, leading to deaths and injuries of rebels and harm to civilians, and the Senegalese military conducted operations in response to a massacre of 14 individuals in the Casamance by unidentified individuals. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Macky Sall has held office since 2012. In legislative elections held on July 30, 2017, Sall’s coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local NGOs and international observers, including those from the African Union, characterized the elections as generally free and fair, despite significant irregularities. Approximately 53 percent of voters cast ballots, a significant increase from the 36 percent who cast ballots in the previous legislative election in 2012.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The 2010 gender parity law requires the candidate lists of political parties to contain equal numbers of men and women for elected positions at all levels, from city councils to the National Assembly. In the July 2017 legislative election, all lists of candidates fully complied with the parity law. While the number of women in elected positions has increased, the law has not significantly expanded their role in exercising political authority since it does not apply to party leadership positions or to other important decision-making bodies, such as the cabinet and the judiciary. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in the political process to the same extent as men.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The country held extraordinary parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2017. International observers stated that the elections were mostly free, but that campaigning during both periods benefited progovernment candidates. In 2017 Aleksandar Vucic, president of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was elected president, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote in the first round.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included government corruption, including by some high-level officials; violence against journalists; and crimes including violence targeting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses (and punish them, if convicted), both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses. Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held extraordinary parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2017. Aleksandar Vucic, president of the SNS, was elected president of the country, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote. International observers stated that these elections were mostly free, but that campaigning during both periods was tilted to benefit the ruling party. The final report of the limited election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on the 2017 Presidential Election concluded that the election provided voters with a genuine choice of contestants who were able to campaign freely. The campaign, however, was dominated by then-prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, who benefited from the effectively blurred distinction between the campaign and official activities.

In March there were elections for the Belgrade City Assembly. Belgrade has a population of 1.6 million, and the mayor of Belgrade is considered the third most powerful political position in the country. Because of this and Belgrade’s historic role as a center of power for opposition parties, the elections received extensive media coverage and political attention. President Vucic’s SNS won almost 45 percent of the vote, giving it a majority in the assembly. There were 24 political parties on the ballot, but only three others crossed the 5 percent electoral threshold. Although contestants were largely able to campaign freely, opposition parties raised concerns about restricted access to the country’s media outlets.

In all three recent elections, unbalanced media coverage, credible allegations of pressure on voters and employees of state-affiliated structures, and a misuse of administrative resources tilted the playing field. Regulatory and oversight mechanisms were ineffective and did not safeguard the fairness of competition. While the legal framework was conducive to the conduct of democratic elections, it did not sufficiently cover all fundamental aspects of the process, with certain areas left under- or poorly regulated.

The Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability observation mission for the Belgrade City Assembly elections reported serious breaches of electoral procedures at 8 percent of polling stations, more than the number of irregularities reported during the 2017 presidential or 2016 legislative elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law states that for municipal and parliamentary elections, one in three candidates must be a member of the sex least represented on the list. Minority groups need only 1,000 signatures to register political parties compared to 10,000 for nonminority parties.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Council of Ministers, and National Assembly. In 2015 voters narrowly re-elected president James Michel of Parti Lepep in an election that international observers criticized for voter intimidation and vote buying. In 2016 President Michel resigned and appointed his vice president, Danny Faure, president of the republic, as provided for by the constitution. President Faure was the Parti Lepep vice-presidential candidate, and after assuming the presidency, he declared he would not run for the leadership of his party. In 2017, a year after he assumed office, Faure withdrew from Parti Lepep, marking the first time since independence that the head of state was not the head of a political party. Faure was serving the remaining four years of Michel’s mandate and had never run as a presidential candidate. In 2016 the opposition coalition Seychellois Democratic Union (SDU) won a majority of seats in legislative assembly elections, which international and domestic observers called fair but not free due to lack of credibility of the election management body. This was the SDU’s first majority since the establishment of a multiparty system, and since then the government has been in a state of “cohabitation.” In September the SDU tabled a motion calling on Faure to step down and make way for presidential elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violent prison conditions, ineffective government enforcement of regulations concerning domestic violence against women, and forced labor.

The government took steps to punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 President Michel was re-elected to a third term by 193 votes in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff election. Neither Michel nor runner-up Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition alliance Seychelles National Party, received the required 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first electoral round. International observers from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union criticized voter intimidation and vote buying by the ruling party, indicating they had determined that the elections were neither free nor fair.

The opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn the elections based on election irregularities, including vote buying. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that, although there were irregularities, they were not significant enough to overturn the elections.

The country held National Assembly elections in 2016. An opposition alliance composed of the Seychelles National Party, the Lalyans Seselwa Party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, and supporters of independent presidential candidate Phillipe Boulle, won 15 seats in the 33-seat assembly, while Parti Lepep won 10 seats. The remaining seats were allocated on a proportional basis, with the alliance and Parti Lepep each receiving four additional seats. International and domestic observers qualified the election as transparent, fair, and peaceful but refrained from calling it free due to the lack of credibility of the election management body, the Seychelles Electoral Commission. On August 10, a new five-member Electoral Commission was sworn in.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Parti Lepep assumed power in a 1977 coup and continued to dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. Opposition parties claimed they operated under restrictions and were subjected to outside interference. Some opposition party members claimed they lost their government jobs because of their political affiliation and were at a disadvantage when applying for government licenses and loans.

In 2016, on the first day of the National Assembly session, President Michel announced his resignation, passing the presidency to Vice President Danny Faure of Parti Lepep, effective the following month. President Faure opted for a consultative approach with the opposition, the legislature, and the executive, in order to collaborate on the most important national subjects. In 2017 the National Assembly amended the constitution and removed the clause that permitted the passing of the presidency to a vice president to serve the rest of the mandate of his predecessor. The amendment provides for elections three months after the resignation or death of a president.

On July 13, Seychelles Nation reported the creation of seven regional councils following a bipartisan arrangement between the ruling Parti Lepep and the majority Linyon Demokratik Seselwa. The regional councils had been criticized by civil society groups, the Electoral Commission, and the Interfaith Council as unlawful. No case was taken to court to challenge the legitimacy of the councils and they continued to operate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws or practices prevent women from fully engaging in politics, and women do participate in the political process. Following the 2016 National Assembly elections, women held seven of 33 seats, compared with 14 seats in the previous assembly. Women held five of 14 ministerial positions in the cabinet.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Maada Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In the January parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Observers found the elections to be largely free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, leading to the arrest of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, but impunity persisted.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 7, the country held peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections, and on March 31, the government held presidential run-off elections. The opposition SLPP candidate, Julius Maada Bio, defeated the incumbent APC party candidate, Samura Kamara. Although some observers reported minor irregularities, domestic and international observers described the elections as free, fair, transparent, and credible, with 84 percent turnout among registered voters.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission and 16 of them competed in the March 7 elections.

Opposition parties complained that the then-ruling APC engaged in intimidation of other parties. Between July 2017 and April, supporters of the APC reportedly attacked and intimidated opposition party members across the country. IGR reported that in Tonkolili District, attackers beat an SLPP supporter. In another case, APC members assaulted opposition National Grand Coalition supporters in Kambia and Kono. IGR recorded a series of other electoral related violence across the country, mostly perpetrated by the APC.

Ethnic affiliations strongly influenced political party membership for the two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Themne; each accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. The Mende traditionally supported the SLPP and the Themne the APC. The Limba, the third most populous ethnic group, traditionally supported the APC. Other ethnic groups had no strong political party affiliations. The opposition APC party had repeatedly accused the SLPP of giving preference to populations in the Southeast, who are mostly Mendes, in filling government positions. As of August 30, ministers from the Southeast held 54 percent of cabinet positions, ministers from the South and East 25 percent, and those from the Western Peninsula the remaining 16 percent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote, but husbands or other patriarchal figures were known to influence their decisions. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 18 were women. As of August women led five of the 24 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 out of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).

All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore is a parliamentary republic where the People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominated the political scene. The Elections Department declared Halimah Yacob president in 2017; she was the only candidate who qualified for the ballot, which was reserved that year for an ethnic Malay. Observers considered the 2015 general election free and open. The PAP won 83 of 89 parliamentary seats with 70 percent of the vote. The president subsequently reappointed PAP leader Lee Hsien-Loong as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: preventive detention by government authorities under various laws that dispense with regular judicial due process; monitoring private electronic or telephone communications without a warrant; significant restrictions on the press and online, including the use of defamation laws to discourage criticism; laws and regulations significantly limiting the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law on this was not enforced.

The government prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses in previous years. There were no reports of officials who committed human rights abuses or prosecutions or reports of impunity for such abuses in the year to October.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is compulsory and 93.7 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2015 general election. In five decades of continuous rule, the PAP has employed a variety of policies that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years, however, the opposition won additional seats, although it held a small fraction of parliamentary seats in the sitting parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law provides for the popular election of the president to a six-year term from among candidates approved by two constitutionally prescribed committees selected by the government. The constitution also requires multiracial representation in the presidency. The office of the president is reserved for a member of a specific racial community (Chinese, Malay, or Indian and other minority communities) if no person belonging to that community had held the office of the president for any of the last five terms of office. The 2017 presidential election was reserved for eligible Malay candidates. In September 2017 former speaker of parliament Halimah Yacob became president without a vote because she was the only eligible candidate; two other applicants were ruled ineligible according to criteria applicable to private sector candidates.

The 2015 parliamentary general election was free and open to a viable opposition. There were eight opposition parties, and all seats were contested for the first time since independence. The ruling party won 69.9 percent of the popular vote, capturing 83 of 89 seats in parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party won the six seats it had carried in 2011. The general elections operate according to a first-past-the-post system. A constitutional provision assures at least nine opposition members in parliament; there were three nonconstituency members from the Workers’ Party in the parliament, chosen from the highest-finishing runners-up in the general election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The opposition criticized what it described as PAP abuse of its incumbency to restrict opposition parties. The PAP maintained its political dominance in part by circumscribing political discourse and action. For example, government-appointed and predominantly publicly funded Community Development Councils, which provide welfare and other services, strengthened the PAP’s position. The PAP also had an extensive grassroots system and a carefully selected, highly disciplined membership.

The PAP controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press, and benefited from weak opposition parties. While the PAP’s methods were fully consistent with the law and the normal prerogatives of a parliamentary government, the overall effect was to perpetuate PAP power. The constitutional requirement that members of parliament resign if expelled from their party helped promote backbencher discipline.

Although political parties were legally free to organize, authorities imposed strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability, including a ban on receiving foreign donations. There were 31 registered political parties, 12 of which were active.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Presidential elections may be reserved for certain racial communities. There are no other restrictions in law or practice against voting or political participation by minorities; they were well represented throughout the government, except in some sensitive national security positions.

Slovakia

Executive Summary

The Slovak Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister and a 150-member parliament (Narodna Rada or National Council). Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini heads a three-party coalition that secured a majority of seats in parliament following free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016. In elections considered free and fair, voters elected Andrej Kiska to a five-year term as president and head of state in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; violence or hate speech targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence and widespread discrimination and violence against Roma; and security force violence against ethnic and racial minorities that government actions and rhetoric did little to discourage.

The government investigated reports of abuses by members of the security forces and other government institutions, although some observers questioned the thoroughness of these investigations. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and the law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the parliamentary elections held in 2016 and the regional elections in November 2017 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. A 2017 survey by the European Institute for Gender Equality placed the female political participation gap at the national level at 57 percent.

While there were small but increasing numbers of Romani mayors and members of local councils, Roma were severely underrepresented in communal, provincial, and national elective bodies.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Power is shared among a directly elected president (head of state), a prime minister (head of government), and a bicameral parliament composed of the National Assembly (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). On June 3, the country held parliamentary elections. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On June 3, the country held parliamentary elections in which the Slovenian Democratic Party won the plurality of votes. The List of Marjan Sarec won the second most votes and formed a five-party coalition that assumed office on September 13. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The government’s cabinet includes four women ministers. The constitution provides for the National Assembly to include one member each from the Hungarian and Italian minorities.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future