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Afghanistan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2004 constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not prevent, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019. In September, after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban’s so-called chief justice was quoted as saying that the country would follow the 1964 Constitution with modifications until it drafted a replacement document. There was no further clarification, leaving uncertain whether there would be future elections or other democratic processes. The Taliban announced on December 27 that it was disbanding the Independent Election Commission, the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stating they were “unnecessary for current conditions.”

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections were last held in 2019, and President Ghani’s second five-year term began in April 2020. President Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban approached Kabul. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh under President Ghani announced a government in exile in September. In September the Taliban’s spokesperson said future elections would be considered in the process of establishing a new constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Under the pre-August 15 government, the constitution granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provided that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The same law required parties to have at least 10,000 members nationwide to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote were permitted to join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions were prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

Before August 15, in large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity. After August 15, the Taliban engaged with some political parties, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Senior leaders of other key parties left the country as the Taliban seized Kabul, including most notably the predominantly ethnic Tajik Jamiat Islami, the predominantly ethnic Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat, the predominantly Pashtun Islamic Dawah Organization, and the predominantly ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli. Taliban representatives reportedly maintained communication with those parties, but their ability to operate in the country was limited.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws under the pre-August 15 government prevented women or members of religious or ethnic minority groups from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

The 2004 constitution specified a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the national assembly), the constitution mandated that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The Independent Election Commission finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandated one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also set aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees were required to include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and one-half of the president’s nominees were required to be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga were reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this was not mandated by the constitution.

In many regions traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. The 2016 electoral law mandated that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics before August 15 continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

In September the Taliban announced a “caretaker government,” dominated by ethnic Pashtun members with no women and only a few members of minority groups, none at the cabinet level. In late December the Taliban announced that a second member of the Hazara minority had been appointed to the government, this time as deputy minister for economic affairs.

On September 17, the Taliban closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and announced that the reconstituted “Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” would be housed in its building. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was founded in 2001 with a mandate to “implement government’s social and political policy to secure legal rights of women in the country.” The ministry often struggled with a lack of influence and resources.

According to media reports, the Taliban repressed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community and would not allow members of historically marginalized minority groups to participate in ministries and institutions (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law under the pre-August 15 government provided criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. The pre-August 15 government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Local businessmen complained that government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system during the pre-August 15 government, particularly regarding the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.

Freedom House reported extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors, including the Taliban. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: Under the pre-August 15 government, the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) had jurisdiction over corruption crimes allegedly committed by high-ranking government officials. Between January 2020 and February 2021, a total of 10 military officials of the rank of general were tried by the ACJC Primary Court. The ACJC Primary Court conducted trials in 95 cases involving 384 defendants. The court convicted 302 defendants, acquitted 77, and returned cases of two defendants to the prosecutor for further investigation. Since August the ACJC ceased to operate.

In January, three parliamentarians were arrested for bribery. Per parliamentary rules, the members were released from detention. They were indicted in February and convicted in a trial during which the defendants were absent but represented by counsel. The court sentenced each to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of three million afghanis ($40,000). The Senate wrote to the Supreme Court committing not to arrest the defendants pending their appeal to the ACJC appellate court. The defendants neither surrendered nor were arrested.

Local news agencies reported in February that the pre-August 15 government Ministry of Interior had removed 321 personnel from their posts as a part of the ministry’s campaign against extortion on the country’s highways. Also in February the Attorney General’s Office stated three members of the Meshrano Jirga were sentenced to prison for corruption.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. Justice-sector professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases, particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many pre-August 15 government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Pre-August 15 government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. There were allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Interior Ministry officials of the pre-August 15 government also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

The Taliban announced anticorruption policies following their takeover, including creating commissions in Kabul and at the provincial level to identify corrupt or criminal officials and taking a hardline stance against bribery. The Taliban launched a commission through the “Ministry of Defense” to identify members who were flouting the movement’s directives. A ministry spokesman stated that 2,840 Taliban members were dismissed on charges of corruption and drug use. Reporting from multiple local businessmen revealed that cross-border trading had become much easier under Taliban stewardship with elimination of the “gifts” usually required for Customs officials.

On December 8, Taliban officials in Herat announced that 100 Taliban security personnel were arrested and dismissed on charges of misconduct and illegal activity. They also reported a revenue of 100 million afghanis ($1.3 million) collected over three months due to reduced corruption. Local Taliban leaders in Balkh began investigations into allegations of corruption involving disability benefits, and leaders in Nangarhar established special units to prevent the illegal occupation of land and deforestation.

Albania

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 most recent national parliamentary elections were held on April 25. An International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was formed as a common endeavor of the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In its final report on the elections, the IEOM reported the elections were generally well organized and noted the Central Election Commission (CEC) “managed to adequately fulfill most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification. Overall, the election administration at all levels enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.” The IEOM reported, “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations, and from misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified by positive coverage of state institutions in the media.” The mission also highlighted several deficiencies, including credible allegations of pervasive vote buying by political parties and the leaking of sensitive personal data. The report found that journalists remained vulnerable to pressure and corruption.

Local elections took place in 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, because of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2021 parliamentary elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials and prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Through September, the Special Prosecution Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) announced that it had opened investigations and brought charges against several public officials, including former ministers, mayors, sitting judges and prosecutors, former and sitting judges of the Constitutional Court’s Vetting Appeal’s Chamber, former judges of the Supreme Court, and officials in the executive branch. As of September, one judge, two prosecutors, one mayor, and the former procurement director at the Ministry of Interior were indicted on abuse of office or corruption charges.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional competence. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and the Appeals Chamber reviewed contested decisions. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November, 125 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 103 confirmed, while 48 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting. As of July, 173 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 148 confirmed, while 89 others had resigned or retired.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations.

Corruption: Between January and June, the Prosecutor General’s Office managed a total of 41 cases, including 25 cases carried over from 2020, nine new cases, five dismissed cases, and two cases on which court proceedings had not started.

From January to August, SPAK prosecuted 606 cases, of which 264 were newly registered (218 cases on corruption charges and 46 on organized crime), and 133 persons were charged (84 on corruption charges and 49 on organized crime). A total of 127 persons were convicted. The value of assets confiscated by court ruling was estimated at more than 70 million euros ($80.5 million). While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low- to mid-level public corruption cases, the prosecution rate for high-ranking officials remained low. The Supreme Court was reviewing cases against a former minister of interior (found guilty of abuse of office for facilitating international drug trafficking) and a vetting official (found guilty of forging documents). The appellate court was reviewing the case of a former prosecutor general found guilty by a trial court on charges of asset concealment. The case against a former minister of defense on corruption charges was also reopened.

The High Inspectorate for the Declaration of Assets and Conflict of Interest reported that through August, it had referred four new cases for prosecution, involving one member of parliament, one mayor, one general director of public administration, and one prosecutor. Charges included refusing to declare assets, hiding assets, or falsifying asset declarations; money laundering; and tax evasion.

Police corruption remained a problem. Through August the SIAC received 1,155 complaints which were within the jurisdiction of the service and entered them into the SIAC Case Management System. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, violation of standard operating procedures, abuse of office, arbitrary action, police bias, unfair fines, and passive corruption. SIAC referred to the prosecution 149 cases involving 215 officials. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The government established a system for vetting security officials and, as of November 2019, had completed vetting 32 high-level police and SIAC leaders.

Algeria

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

On March 10, President Tebboune enacted a new electoral law. Typically, new laws must obtain parliamentary approval, but on February 18, Tebboune dissolved parliament’s lower house, thus necessitating the law’s promulgation via decree.

The new law outlines a significant procedural change to the way voters elect members of parliament. Under the previous system, electors voted for a political party’s candidate list rather than for individual candidates, and the candidates on the top of the list would obtain a seat in parliament. The government stated it made the change as part of its efforts to fight corruption. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the electoral law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral-monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms. The new 2020 constitution maintains term limits. The National Independent Authority for Elections (ANIE), established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: In November 2020 the country held a constitutional referendum. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8 percent support and 23.7 percent turnout, according to the ANIE.

On June 12, the country held legislative elections. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election. The vote was the first held under the new electoral law. The new parliament did not have an established opposition party presence, as traditional opposition parties chose to boycott. After the polls closed, Mohamed Charfi, head of the ANIE, announced an “average final turnout rate” of 30.2 percent based on the average turnout percentage in each of the country’s 58 wilayas (states) – not of the percentage of all eligible voters who cast their ballots.

On November 27, the country held local elections and municipal level elections for wilaya (state) and commune-level legislative bodies, plus mayors. The ANIE announced a final turnout rate of 36 percent for municipal elections and 34.9 percent for provincial elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

Opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Occasionally security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. Since taking office in 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the National Liberation Front and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 72 registered political parties, one more than in 2020. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. President Tebboune publicly stated his administration was revising political funding laws and that the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

On April 22, the Ministry of the Interior initiated legal action against the opposition party Union for Change and Progress (UCP). Authorities alleged that the UCP and its president Zoubida Assoul, who was also a lawyer and political activist, lacked legal status. The UCP denied these accusations and said it followed the law on political parties. On May 2, the Interior Ministry requested that the Council of State temporarily suspend the UCP, pending a legal ruling on its outright dissolution.

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

The electoral law eliminated gender quotas in parliament, and women’s representation in parliament fell from 120 to 34. During the 2017 legislative election campaign, the regulatory election body that preceded the ANIE sent formal notices asking parties and individuals to display candidates’ photos on posters. The ANIE did not require female candidates to use their photos on the campaign posters and ballots for this year’s legislative election for cultural and religious reasons.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although President Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, corruption remained a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On May 3, the Ministry of Justice released a progress report on the government’s efforts to recover funds embezzled during former president Bouteflika’s tenure. According to the report, the government successfully recovered 52 billion dinars ($390 million) in assets, 39 billion dinars ($293 million), $214 million, and two million euros ($2.2 million). The government also seized vehicles, plots of land, residences, and businesses. The report accounted for assets recovered in the country but not funds or assets located abroad, primarily in Europe.

On August 28, President Tebboune amended the process for pursuing corruption-related charges or investigating corruption-related offenses against local officials. The Ministry of Interior must first authorize security services to pursue legal proceedings in corruption cases. Lawyers claimed the president’s executive order violates the penal code stipulating the public prosecutor is the “sole authority to assess whether or not to initiate investigative or legal proceedings.”

Andorra

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 parliamentary elections held in 2019 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Citizens were ethnically and linguistically homogeneous but, as of the end of the year, represented only 48.7 percent of the country’s population. Most of the population consisted of immigrants, largely from Spain, Portugal, and France. The law requires 20 years of residency for naturalization. Because only citizens have the right to hold official positions, there were no members of minorities in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Officials infrequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Angola

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 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote, and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court regarding aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count.

The central government appoints provincial governors. Local government elections, originally planned to take place in 2020, faced a series of delays from legislative processes, procedural debates, and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year President Lourenco proposed a constitutional amendment providing for local government elections to be implemented across the nation. In September the National Assembly passed the law, but no date was set for the elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date for the municipal elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The Council of Ministers largely determines which legislative proposals are submitted to the National Assembly for approval. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and indigenous persons, in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65, or 30 percent, were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women, which was double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 38 percent in 2018 and 2019. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. The government dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The Attorney General’s Office continued corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

Corruption: In April authorities sentenced the minister of social communications under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Manuel Rabelais, to 14 years and six months in prison for embezzlement and money laundering committed in a foreign exchange scheme between 2016 and 2017.

In late May President Lourenco dismissed his minister of state and seven other high-level military officials following the arrest of a military major attempting to leave the country with two suitcases full of money. In June 2020 other provincial government and military officials in Cuando Cubango were also detained as part of the same investigation.

In July Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros announced in a press conference that the government had been able to freeze more than 550 billion kwanza (one billion dollars) that had been stolen and deposited in foreign banks. He noted that the funds would be repatriated following legal proceedings.

Carlos Manuel de Sao Vicente, former head of the insurance company AAA Seguros, remained in custody after a September 2020 arrest for alleged money laundering.

On September 21, the former chairman of the board of directors of the Luanda Collective and Urban Transport Company, Abel Antonio Cosme, was extradited by Portugal to the country. Although he was released from custody on September 29 after paying more than nine million kwanza ($16,500) in bail, his extradition was the first of its type to the country for corruption charges.

Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Antigua and Barbuda

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 the 2018 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won 15 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and Gaston Browne was subsequently named prime minister. The Caribbean Community Observation Mission and a Commonwealth Observer Group monitored the election. In their initial report, monitors noted the electoral boundaries had seen only minor adjustments since 1984, leading to large disparities in voter populations in different electoral districts. The monitors stated that despite problems with the electoral process, the results “reflected the will of the people.”

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but full implementation of the law was hindered during the pandemic. Media reported several allegations of corruption against officials during the year. Media and private citizens reported government corruption was widespread and endorsed at the highest levels of government

Corruption: The government pursued corruption cases related to former high-ranking political officials. The Citizenship by Investment Program was a critical source of government revenue. Although the government publishes semiannual public reports on some of the program’s activities, its lack of full transparency led to concerns by civil society and opposition political leaders about oversight and corruption.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The “law” provides Turkish Cypriots 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: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. In 2018 Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary elections” that observers considered free and fair. In October 2020 Turkish Cypriots elected Ersin Tatar as “president” in “elections” that were widely seen as influenced by pro-Tatar interference from Turkey.

Civil society leaders alleged the level of Turkish interference on behalf of Tatar’s candidacy was uncharacteristically high and led to the resignation of several Turkish Cypriot members from the bicommunal Technical Committee on Gender Equality.

According to reports by Turkish Cypriot journalists and statements by candidates during the year, Turkey’s interference in the “TRNC presidential” elections in October 2020 was significant. According to an investigative report by Turkish Cypriot journalist Esra Aygin published in June, the Turkish “embassy” in the “TRNC” and Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) pressured, threatened, and blackmailed former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his supporters, other candidates, and journalists during the election campaign. Aygin also reported receiving threats.

Aygin’s report, based on the work of a team of civil society representatives, lawyers, and researchers, showed “blatant interference by Ankara” in favor of Tatar. According to Aygin several journalists reported being pressured by Turkish officials who claimed they were in northern Cyprus to ensure Tatar’s election. In an interview with local media in July, former Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci alleged there was direct pressure, threats, and blackmailing from MIT and Turkey.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

On June 23, a consortium of Turkish Cypriot organizations spoke out against the “government” in the north concerning its acceleration of “TRNC citizenship” applications. This Country is Ours Platform criticized a decision to reorganize the “Ministry of Interior” in order to approve new passport applications more quickly.

In August opposition Republican Turkish Party “member of parliament” Asim Akansoy said the “Ministry of Interior” was rapidly granting citizenships and asked, “Is it true that 200 people are given citizenship with the approval of the Ministry, per day?” Akansoy criticized the “government” for remaining silent regarding the matter and implied the “government” sought to increase the pro-Turkey voting base by offering “citizenship” to newly arrived immigrants from Turkey.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Nine of the 50 “members of parliament” were women.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in elections they administered. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in elections in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area but had to travel there to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The “law” provides criminal penalties for corruption by “officials.” Authorities, however, did not implement the “law” effectively, and “officials” sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of “government” corruption during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.

Corruption: In July a civil servant working as a cashier at the “tax department” was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for embezzling one million Turkish lira ($108,700 as of mid-October) in driver’s license fees from 2016 to 2020. The “court” ordered a freeze on the cashier’s assets.

In September, six individuals, including a north Nicosia Police Station officer and an information technology (IT) specialist, were arrested for bribery and forging digital vaccine certificates. According to press reports, an unvaccinated police officer from Nicosia paid 650 Turkish lira ($70 as of mid-October) to the IT specialist to create a fake electronic vaccination certificate. The allegations arose after the IT specialist offered to create another fake vaccination certificate for another officer at the Kyrenia police station. Five of the suspects were released pending charges. The investigation continued at year’s end.

In 2019 local press outlets reported that former National Unity Party leader and then “prime minister” Huseyin Ozgurgun inaccurately declared his assets, according to an “attorney general” investigation. Ozgurgun was charged with failing to accurately declare wealth and for abusing public office for private gain. The “parliament” subsequently voted to remove Ozgurgun’s immunity. No trial has yet been held, as Ozgurgun has been living in Turkey since 2019. The “attorney general’s office” reported three lawsuits were pending against Ozgurgun at the Nicosia District Court at year’s end.

Argentina

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: Alberto Fernandez was elected president in 2019 in elections generally considered free and fair. On November 14, the country held midterm municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires an electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. The law also states that in the case of the resignation, temporary absence, or death of an elected official, the replacement must be the same gender. The city of Buenos Aires and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santiago del Estero, Rio Negro, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, Mendoza, Chaco, Misiones, Formosa, Salta, Chubut, Neuquen, and Santa Fe have gender parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies. Enforcement of these laws was weak and limited, however, and results were uneven among the provinces.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Several corruption-related investigations against sitting and former high-ranking political figures, including Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and former president Mauricio Macri, were underway as of September. In 2019 a federal judge sent to trial the corruption scandal known as “the notebooks case.” Fernandez de Kirchner and 52 other defendants were accused of receiving kickbacks, paying kickbacks, or both on public works contracts between 2008 and 2015 when Fernandez de Kirchner was president. Prosecutors estimated the total value of the bribery scheme at $160 million. Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced four other financial corruption cases as of November. According to local media, court officials expected pandemic-related delays would continue to delay trials in some of these cases.

In May an appeals court rejected an extraordinary appeal from former planning minister Julio de Vido, upholding a 2018 sentence of five years and eight months for fraud, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight related to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 persons. De Vido also faced charges in the “notebooks” case and others related to his management of public works projects.

Corruption and official complicity occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial and federal courts were also frequent.

Armenia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws 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 20, the country held snap parliamentary elections in which fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected and contestants were able to campaign freely. Elections were preceded by a short and heated campaign marked by harsh and inflammatory language. The elections occurred amid heightened tensions and polarization following the fall 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the controversial November 2020 cease-fire statement. In the June elections, Nikol Pashinyan’s Civic Contract party won approximately 54 percent of the vote and the majority of seats in the National Assembly, falling one seat short of a two-thirds constitutional majority.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission reported, “Fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected, and contestants were able to campaign freely.” The October 27 final report noted that amendments to the electoral code made in April and May “had been publicly debated… and were supported by most political parties and civil society groups, and public outreach on the proposed electoral reforms was largely perceived as inclusive. However, the late adoption by parliament and subsequent entering into force of the amendments left limited time for the implementation of regulations and raising voters’ awareness of the new procedures.” ODIHR reported that while its observers assessed the territorial election commissions as generally professional and transparent in their conduct, the commissions did not publish their decisions online, nor did they uniformly post them for public display, contrary to legal requirements. ODIHR also noted that central and territorial election commission members expressed concern that many of the party-nominated precinct election commission members, especially those serving as chairpersons and secretaries, “lacked the sufficient education and experience to effectively perform their tasks.”

The final ODIHR report also noted that “high levels of harsh, intolerant, inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric in the period leading up to election day tainted the debate.” Other shortcomings identified by ODIHR included incidents of pressure by political actors and employers on private-sector and public employees to attend campaign events, a number of allegations of vote buying, blurring of the line between the ruling party and state, allegations of the misuse of administrative resources, continued shortcomings regarding campaign finance, notably the absence of organizational expenses in the legal definition of campaign expenditures, and the narrow legal standing for submitting electoral complaints.

There were allegations of electoral bribes during the campaign, and law enforcement bodies launched 67 criminal cases in this regard. As of October 15, 35 persons were facing criminal charges related to electoral bribes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not restrict the registration or activity of political parties.

In its final report, the ODIHR observation mission stated, “Allegations of misuse of administrative resources also persisted throughout the campaign and were not sufficiently or uniformly addressed.” ODIHR observers received such reports from four of the country’s 10 regions and Yerevan. Other observers noted complaints that “administrative resources” were reportedly employed by both progovernment and opposition forces.

There were incidents of violence involving political figures. For example after the June 20 snap elections, Lori governor Aram Khachatryan publicly urged mayors who had supported the opposition to resign, claiming Civil Contract’s victory amounted to a vote of no confidence in opposition-linked community heads. Mayor of the Lori region’s Odzun village Arsen Titanyan, who had supported the opposition, accused Khachatryan of assaulting him in connection with Khachatryan’s calls for him to resign. Khachatryan denied the claims. A local civil society observer noted that the conflict between the governor and mayor also involved reports of vote buying in Odzun. A criminal case was launched into the alleged assault, but on September 22, media reported that the SIS had dropped the case.

Violence also occurred between members of the National Assembly. For example on August 24, a scuffle between parliamentarians broke out after Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the removal of opposition parliamentarian Anna Mkrtchyan for calling the prime minister a “capitulator,” in reference to the 2020 cease-fire arrangement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Another fight broke out in parliament on August 25, after Armenia faction head and former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan threw a water bottle at Civil Contract member Hayk Sargsyan. The latter had called former defense ministers who had allowed for exemptions to army service via telephone calls “traitors.” This scuffle was soon followed by a larger brawl, initiated when Civil Contract members of parliament hit several Armenia faction members of parliament. A human rights activist asserted that security officers intentionally delayed responding to the incident.

During the campaign and following the June parliamentary elections, Pashinyan claimed his party would employ a “steel mandate,” strictly prosecuting those who violated the law. The opposition and some independent human rights observers asserted such prosecution largely targeted the prime minister’s opponents. After the parliamentary elections, four opposition-linked former or current mayors in Syunik Province were arrested for various alleged crimes related to abuse of power, fraud, or bribes. As the mayors had openly opposed Pashinyan, their arrests raised questions related to potential selective application of the law and political motivations, as well as questions related to the necessity of pretrial detentions. Former mayors of Meghri and Sisian, Mkhitar Zakaryan and Artur Sargsyan, were elected to parliament but were not released from custody in a move that opposition figures asserted was not in keeping with their parliamentary immunity. They were released after the Constitutional Court ruled on December 7 that any citizen automatically gains immunity after being elected to the National Assembly and cannot be arrested or detained without the National Assembly’s consent. Kajaran mayor Manvel Paramazyan, who also was arrested in the wake of the June parliamentary elections, was released on bail, while the re-elected mayor of Goris, Arush Arushanyan, remained in custody as of year’s end.

Reports of political pressure on local officials continued through year’s end. For example in December, several Civil Contract members of the Yerevan City Council reportedly were pressured to vote in support of a no-confidence measure to oust Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan under threat of losing their government jobs or mandates. A former ally of Prime Minister Pashinyan, Marutyan was voted out on December 22.

There were reports of pressure on opposition candidates prior to and after the municipal elections from October to December in a number of localities, including Goris, Jermuk, Meghri, Tatev, Talin, Tegh, Vanadzor, and Vardenis. For example on December 15, former mayor of Vanadzor and opposition candidate for mayor Mamikon Aslanyan was arrested on charges of abuse of power and fraud stemming from a criminal case launched in September. The arrest came immediately after Vanadzor municipal elections, in which Aslanyan’s bloc received a plurality of votes and was in the process of discussions to form a city council government. Many commentators believed that, due to the timing, the arrest was politically motivated and constituted selective application of the law against the ruling party’s political opponent, even if the case had merits. They also questioned the necessity of pretrial detention in this case. For example, prominent human rights defender Artur Sakunts, head of HCAV, characterized the move as part of “a new KGB-like style, when a dossier [of disparaging information] is being developed on an individual and used [against him] only when necessary for political reasons.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Under the amendments to the electoral code approved during the year, women and men must each account for at least 30 percent of candidates in the National Assembly elections, an increase from the previous quota of 25 percent. ODIHR election observers reported that in the June 20 elections, all lists fully complied with the gender requirement, with women accounting for 37 percent of the 2,623 candidates for office. The patriarchal nature of society, however, inhibited large-scale participation by women in political and economic life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. Women held one of 15 cabinet positions, 10 percent of the seats in local legislatures, and approximately 37 percent of seats in the National Assembly – an increase from the approximately 23 percent of the seats they held in the previous National Assembly session. Whereas there was one female deputy speaker and one female faction head in the previous session, there were none in the National Assembly elected in June. There was one female governor in the country’s 10 regions.

Parties rarely featured women candidates in their campaigns (although one female head of a political party ran in the elections); women only occasionally campaigned on their own and rarely appeared as speakers in rallies. Female parliamentarians and other female officials often faced gender-related insults. In its report on the June elections, the ODIHR election mission stated, “Women were notably sidelined in campaign events, rarely participating as speakers.” The report noted that only 24 of 153 observed speakers during rallies were women and that 51 of 73 observed campaign events had no female speakers. There was an observable absence of messages targeting women and national minority groups during the campaigns.

The law provides an additional National Assembly seat for each of the country’s four largest ethnic minorities, the Yezidi, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Russian communities. Four members of parliament represented these constituencies and are chosen by the major political parties and not directly elected.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” the government opened investigations that revealed systemic corruption encompassing most areas of public and private life. The government launched numerous criminal cases against alleged corruption by former high-ranking government officials and their relatives, parliamentarians, the former presidents, and in a few instances, members of the judiciary and their relatives, with cases ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. Many of the cases continued, and additional cases were reported regularly. The government also initiated corruption-related cases against several current government officials and members of the judiciary.

In addition to integrity checks of nominees, the Corruption Prevention Commission exercised its powers to review sitting judges’ asset declarations and to communicate to law enforcement information that may indicate a crime. As a result, three disciplinary, three administrative, and one criminal case had been initiated.

Authorities took measures to strengthen the institutional framework to fight corruption, including establishing the Anticorruption Committee, which served as the primary law enforcement body dealing with corruption. The committee began operations in October and initiated several cases, such as charging former chief of police Vladimir Gasparyan with legalizing criminally obtained property worth more than two billion drams ($4.1 million) and other criminal acts.

Corruption: The country had a legacy of systemic corruption in many areas, including construction, mining, public administration, parliament, the judiciary, procurement practices, and provision of state assistance. There were allegations of embezzlement of state funds and involvement of government officials in questionable business activities.

On September 7, the SIS arrested Aghvan Hovsepyan, the former prosecutor general and former head of the Investigative Committee. According to the SIS, Hovsepyan illegally engaged in entrepreneurial activities while holding public office, engaged in laundering of approximately 1.3 billion drams ($2.6 million), received a bribe in the amount of 190 million drams ($2.1 million), and seized property through fraud valued at 800 million drams ($1.6 million). At year’s end an investigation remained underway and Hovsepyan remained in pretrial detention.

Australia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: All states and territories have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of, foreign principals to register with the government.

Austria

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 parliamentary elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in either election, and credible observers considered both to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s participation in government at the national level increased because of the 2019 federal elections. There were 74 women in the 183-member lower house of compared with 63 during the 2017-19 legislative term. The coalition government had eight women in its 17-member body. The previous government had six female ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of government corruption during the year. The Ministry of Justice’s 2020 annual report disclosed that it had investigated 2,031 allegations of corruption in 2020, of which 1,594 were closed without prosecution, 249 resulted in convictions, and 93 resulted in acquittals. The convictions represent a 15 percent increase from 2019.

Corruption: On November 18, parliament voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, at his request, so that an investigation against him by anticorruption prosecutors could continue. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October but at that time continued to serve as the People’s Party chairman and started serving as the party’s parliamentary floor leader. Kurz resigned in the wake of corruption investigations against him in connection with alleged abuse of office and alleged misuse of public funds for manipulated polling and favorable press coverage beginning in 2016. Kurz withdrew from politics completely in December and resigned as chairman of the People’s Party and as the party’s parliamentary floor leader.

On August 27, a Vienna court sentenced the former vice chancellor and former leader of the Freedom Party, Hans-Christian Strache, to a 15-month suspended prison term for trying to initiate legislation to benefit the owner of a private hospital who donated $14,000 to Strache’s party. Strache appealed the verdict.

During the year, prosecutors also continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and the government holding company OeBAG. The investigations included a search of the finance minister’s house based on allegations he may have been involved in discussions about a political party donation by gambling company Novomatic in exchange for the government’s assistance regarding a tax matter in Italy. In June prosecutors initiated investigations against Kurz on perjury charges in connection with his June 2020 testimony before a parliamentary investigative committee regarding his possible involvement in the appointment of the CEO of the government holding company. The finance minister resigned all party positions and withdrew from politics in December.

Prosecutors also continued investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($575,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

Azerbaijan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, the government continued to restrict this ability by obstructing the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the National Assembly exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the president dissolved the National Assembly in response to an appeal to do so by the National Assembly; the president announced early elections for the body to be held in February 2020.

Some opposition parties boycotted the election, citing the restrictive environment, while other opposition parties and groups took part. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission, the restrictive legislation and political environment prevented genuine competition in the February 2020 elections. ODIHR concluded that voters were not provided with a meaningful choice due to a lack of real political competition and discussion. Although many candidates utilized social media to reach out to voters, use of social media generally did not compensate for the absence of campaign coverage in traditional media. ODIHR observed several instances of pressure on voters, candidates, and candidates’ representatives. International and local observers reported significant procedural violations during the counting and tabulation of votes, including ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting. ODIHR concluded the flaws “raised concerns whether the results were established honestly.” Domestic nonpartisan election observers concluded the election results did not reflect the will of the people.

Similarly, in 2018 the president issued a decree advancing the presidential election from October 2018 to April 2018. Opposition parties boycotted the election, blaming a noncompetitive environment and citing insufficient time to prepare. According to the ODIHR mission that observed the election, the presidential election took place in a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtailed fundamental rights and freedoms that are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. The mission concluded that, in the absence of pluralism, including in media, the election lacked genuine competition. International and local observers reported widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, lack of transparency, and numerous serious irregularities, such as ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting, on election day.

Following a 2016 referendum, constitutional amendments extended the presidential term from five to seven years and permitted the president to call early elections if twice in one year legislators passed no-confidence measures in the government or rejected presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession. In 2017 the president appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first vice president. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the 2016 referendum was well executed, independent election observers identified numerous instances of ballot-box stuffing, carousel voting – a method of vote rigging usually involving voters casting ballots multiple times – and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. Observers reported significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the Central Election Commission.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling New Azerbaijan Party continued to dominate the political system. Domestic observers reported members of the ruling party received advantages, such as priority for public positions. During the year a Presidential Administration official continued direct communication with some of the country’s 58 registered political parties and groups. The official held meetings with political figures, including representatives of selected opposition parties, throughout the year. Despite the dialogue, however, restrictions on political participation continued.

Opposition members were generally more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of opposition political parties continued to be arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government or participating in peaceful rallies (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). According to domestic NGOs, eight opposition party members were considered to be political detainees or prisoners, including Azerbaijan Popular Front Party-members Agil Maharramov, Saleh Rustamli, Pasha Umudov, Alizamin Salayev, Niyamaddin Ahmedov, and Agil Humbatov.

In the continuation of a particularly high-profile, politically motivated case, on July 15, the Baku Court of Appeals sentenced Tofig Yagublu, a member of the Coordination Center of National Council of Democratic Forces and the Musavat Party, to a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Yagublu had been arrested for alleged “hooliganism” in connection with a car accident in March 2020. Human rights defenders considered the arrest a staged provocation against Yagublu. In September 2020 the Nizami District Court convicted Yagublu and sentenced him to four years and three months in prison. Later that month the Baku Court of Appeals released Yagublu to house arrest after he went on a 17-day hunger strike. Yagublu participated in a peaceful protest on December 1, 2021, and was detained; Yagublu distributed photographs following his release from detention that indicated he was severely beaten in custody (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). When officials released him, they reportedly deposited him in the desert outside of Baku.

Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because property owners feared official retaliation. Regional opposition party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and met in teahouses and other remote locations. Opposition parties also faced formal and informal financing obstacles. For example, authorities limited financial resources of opposition parties by punishing those who provided material support, firing members of opposition parties, and employing economic pressure on their family members.

Restrictions on local civil society organizations limited their ability to monitor elections. Such restrictions included legal provisions severely constraining NGO activities and their ability to obtain registration that was required for legal status. For example, two nonpartisan election-monitoring organizations (the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center and the Institute for Democratic Initiatives) remained unregistered. The center reported that independent election observers were subjected to physical and psychological pressure during the February 2020 National Assembly elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva also held the appointed position of first vice president. The head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA), a cabinet-level position, was a woman. A total of 17.6 percent of members of the National Assembly, including the speaker of the National Assembly, were women.

Female activists often faced additional pressure and harassment. There were confirmed incidents involving invasion of their privacy. For example, on March 9, activist Narmin Shahmarzade’s Facebook profile was hacked (see section 1.f.). Her private messages, including some of which were faked or altered, and photographs were shared on social media and the Telegram messenger app.

Family members of opposition politicians also were subject to harassment. On March 28 and April 3, intimate videos of Gunel Hasanli, daughter of opposition party leader Jamil Hasanli, were shared on a Telegram messenger app. Human rights defenders considered it an act of retaliation against Jamil Hasanli because of his political activities (see section 1.f. for details).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress in combating low-level corruption in the provision of government services, there were continued reports of corruption by government officials, including those at the highest levels.

Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread. There were reports of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. For example, in six reports on visits made to the country between 2004 and 2017, the CPT noted that corruption in the country’s entire law enforcement system remained “systemic and endemic.” In a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2017, for example, the CPT cited the practice of law enforcement officials demanding payments in exchange for dropping or reducing charges or for releasing individuals from unrecorded custody. These problems persisted throughout the year. Media reported that on April 26, the head of the Shamkir Executive Committee Alimpasha Mammadov was detained on corruption-related charges.

Similar to previous years, authorities continued to punish individuals for exposing government corruption. For example, during the year police detained two civil society activists who were then turned over to the Main Department to Combat Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The two activists were preparing a media story about government corruption. Main Department to Combat Organized Crime officials reportedly tortured one of these individuals.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it investigated 600 criminal cases against 405 officials and sent 274 criminal cases to the courts during the year. While no senior officials were prosecuted, several high-ranking officials were arrested and charged. Several such cases remained under investigation at year’s end, including charges of corruption against the minister of culture and other high-ranking ministry officials, multiple ambassadors, several department heads at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several heads and deputy heads of regional executive committees (governors). Although those accused were charged with corruption, the arrests were not accompanied by systemic reforms, such as requiring all officials to comply with the asset declaration law or ending punitive measures against persons who exposed corruption. Many observers considered the arrests to have political or economic motives that were unrelated to combating corruption.

On June 29, the OCCRP published an article regarding Izzatkhanim Javadova and Suleyman Javadov, who had family ties to the ruling elite and who allegedly received $19.6 million from questionable sources. According to the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Crime Agency, the family used a network of 20 companies based mostly in offshore locations to transfer the funds into their UK accounts. UK investigators identified six of the companies as being part of the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” which allowed the country’s ruling elite to embezzle funds, avoid taxes, launder money, pay bribes to European parliamentarians, purchase properties, and fund luxurious lifestyles. On July 7, the OCCRP published information that the Javadovs had agreed to hand over $5.5 million to UK authorities and settle an inquiry into the origin of their financial wealth.

On October 7, the OCCRP published an investigation revealing the wife, daughter, and son-in-law of former speaker of the Milli Majlis (parliament) Oktay Asadov (2005-20) acquired luxurious properties in London, Dubai, and Moscow. In total, the Asadovs reportedly acquired assets valued at almost $10 million.

There were credible reports that paying bribes could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between ages 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.

The government continued efforts to reduce low-level corruption and improve government services by expanding the capabilities and number of service centers of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations, which functioned as one-stop locations for government services, such as obtaining birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.

Bahamas

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.

The government’s sudden announcement of a snap election in September immediately closed the voter registry, effectively excluding any citizen who had not yet registered to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On September 16, Prime Minister Philip Davis took office after his Progressive Liberal Party defeated the incumbent Free National Movement in a snap general election in September. The Progressive Liberal Party won 32 of the 39 parliamentary seats, with 56 percent of the popular vote. The incumbent Free National Movement won the remaining seven seats. Election observers from the Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, and Commonwealth Secretariat found the election to be generally free and fair. Critics argued, however, that the abrupt announcement of the early election, which immediately suspended the voter registration process, disenfranchised those who had not yet registered, particularly youth and first-time voters. Furthermore, critics complained that holding the election during the COVID-19 pandemic led to historically low voter turnout (65 percent of registered voters, compared with more than 80 percent in other recent elections).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. While a record seven women were elected to Parliament, fewer than 20 percent of the candidates presented by the two major parties were women. Leadership from both parties noted difficulties in recruiting female candidates. Other observers cited obstacles such as patriarchal traditions, expectations of personal attacks, and inflexible attitudes regarding gender roles.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts. There were reports of government corruption during the year where officials sometimes engaged in cronyism and accepted small-scale “bribes of convenience” with impunity.

Corruption: The campaign finance system was largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence. The procurement process was susceptible to corruption since it contained no requirement to engage in open public tenders. In February the government passed the Public Procurement Bill (2020) to improve transparency and accountability in the public procurement process.

Corruption in the BDCS and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre was a long-standing problem, with allegations by both detainees and officials. There were widespread, credible reports that immigration officials solicited bribes to prevent detention or grant release. Human rights organizations and media reporting alleged that officials demanded payment in exchange for telephone calls and sanitary napkins.

Bahrain

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and do not have the ability to choose their political system. The constitution provides for an elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives after consulting the chairpersons of the upper and lower houses of parliament and head of the Constitutional Court. The king may not dissolve the Council of Representatives for the same reasons more than once. The king has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government did not permit international election monitors for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. Some observers expressed broader concerns regarding limitations on freedom of expression and association, as well as continued concerns over voting district boundaries. According to Human Rights Watch, a number of measures created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, including the dissolution of the country’s principal opposition political groups and laws restricting their former members from running for office; the absence of an independent press; and the criminalization of online criticism.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some existing “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. In 2016 and 2017 the government dissolved the two most prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, through legal actions.

To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity.

The government authorized registered political societies to nominate candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. The law bans practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. In the 2018 elections, six women won seats in the 40-member Council of Representatives, doubling the number of women, and the body elected its first female speaker in that year. The royal court appointed nine women that same year to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. Approximately 9 percent of judges were women, including the deputy chief of the Court of Cassation. Two women in the police force held the rank of brigadier general and general director.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, although the majority of citizens were Shia. In 2018 11 Shia candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. The appointed Shura Council included 19 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Four of the 22 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia citizens, including one of four deputy prime ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties range up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The National Audit Office, an arm of the prime minister’s office, is responsible for combating government corruption. The Government Executive Committee, chaired by the prime minister, reviews any offenses cited in the office’s annual report, released in October.

The Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Anticorruption and Economic and Electronic Security held workshops for various ministries throughout the year.

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. According to the Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security investigated 96 embezzlement, bribery, and abuse of power cases, in addition to three offenses stemming from the National Audit Office report to the cabinet.

On November 23, the High Criminal Court referred two government employees, suspected of embezzlement charges related to renovating mosques, to a court specialized in trying cases linked to financial corruption. Separately, two Ministry of Interior employees appeared before the High Criminal Court on December 9 on corruption charges.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services, the Bahrain Defense Force, and other off-budget government expenditures, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land for profit remained a concern among opposition groups.

Bangladesh

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: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term in a December 2018 parliamentary election that observers considered neither free nor fair and that was marred by irregularities including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven seats. Parliament conferred the official status of opposition on the Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led governing coalition, which seated 22 members in parliament. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, or campaign freely.

During the 2018 national elections, the government did not grant credentials or issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to most international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to observe the domestic election.

Low voter turnout, intimidation, irregularities, and low-scale violence targeting opposition-nominated candidates during campaigns and voting marked several local government elections during the year. On February 28, the main opposition BNP announced it would boycott municipal elections countrywide on the grounds the Election Commission had “destroyed” the electoral system. The BNP also refrained from nominating candidates for parliamentary by-elections held during the year. The elections drew few voters, and in some constituencies the ruling AL candidates were “uncontested winners.”

In subdistrict (Upazila) elections from June through December, media reported intraparty violence between AL-affiliated candidates and their supporters left more than 50 individuals dead. Human rights organization ASK stated 157 persons died and 10,833 were injured in a total of 932 political clashes during the year. One candidate publicly boasted government officials and security services supported him, and he threatened ballots would not be secret. Media reported the Election Commission took virtually no action to address violations of the electoral code of conduct by ruling party leaders. AL officials downplayed the violence as the byproduct of “overly enthusiastic” candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

There were numerous reports of DSA arrests and charges for citizens who reported corruption (see section 2.a.).

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), set up in 2004 to serve as an independent monitoring mechanism, focuses on investigating cases of corruption, including but not limited to bribery, embezzlement, extortion, abuse of discretion, and improper political contributions. The ACC must obtain permission from the government to investigate or file any charge against government politicians or bureaucrats. Local human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the ACC, which they claimed was evidenced by the acquittal of most cases brought against ruling party officials and bureaucrats, while legal processes, investigations, and filing of cases against leaders of the BNP continued.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In January the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced its intent to provide public housing for 885,622 homeless and landless families, as part of an initiative to eradicate homelessness in honor of the birth centenary of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibar Rahman. In July media reported 36 subdistricts raised allegations of corruption and construction irregularities connected to the housing projects. In response to these reports, the PMO appointed five officials to inspect the allegations, announced “zero tolerance” for any irregularities, and launched technical committees to advise on the administration of the project. Media reported the secretary to the PMO accepted responsibility for the “administration’s failure to deliver on the promise of a flawless project.”

On February 1, al-Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men,” a two-year investigation alleging corruption against political and military figures, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former chief of army staff general Aziz Ahmed (see section 2.a.). The documentary focused on activities of Ahmed’s family and alleged corruption, including bribery and collusion with security forces such as the RAB unit. The documentary also alleged the government’s military intelligence service bought spyware from Israel, a country not recognized by Bangladesh, to monitor the prime minister’s political opponents. In response to the investigation, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings of the document as a “smear campaign” orchestrated by opponents of the ruling government based abroad.

Media reported numerous accounts of local authorities embezzling government food and cash assistance during the pandemic and the related government-imposed lockdowns. In response to these reports, in April 2020 the prime minister assigned 64 mid-level officials from the central government to monitor and report on relief operations. Media reported the relief distribution efforts were administered by civil servants under the executive branch. In June some politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties objected to the centrally administered relief distribution efforts, alleging bureaucrats under the ruling party were corrupt and taking over the country. Opposition lawmakers criticized the Health Ministry for its alleged failure to curb corruption and provide health care during the pandemic.

On June 6, an MP of the ruling party alleged corruption and money laundering continued despite the government’s vow to curb the practice. Another senior MP of the ruling party criticized the government’s budget proposals to impose taxes on the incomes of private universities and medical colleges.

Barbados

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: The most recent general election occurred in 2018, when the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in Parliament’s House of Assembly, and the governor general appointed BLP leader Mia Mottley as prime minister, with the support of the BLP members of the House of Assembly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The president, prime minister, and six cabinet ministers were women. The leader of the opposition political party was a woman.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. In October the government passed the Prevention of Corruption Act, which provides for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of acts of corruption, and applies to persons in both the public and private sectors. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were no formal investigations of government corruption during the year.

A former government minister in a previous administration was convicted by a U.S. court in January 2020 of money laundering and was sentenced in April to two years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder bribe payments from a Barbadian insurance company through bank accounts in New York.

Belarus

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, but the government consistently denied citizens this ability by failing to conduct elections according to international standards and detaining, imprisoning, exiling, or threatening those individuals who sought free and fair elections.

After his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referendums in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the National Assembly elections held in 2019 and the August 2020 presidential election, denied citizens the right to exercise their will in an honest and transparent process, including fair access to media and to resources.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to independent local observation groups, the August 2020 presidential election was marred by numerous abuses, the use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent, the absence of impartial election commissions, unequal access to media, coercion of voters to participate in early voting, nontransparent vote tabulation, and restrictions on independent observers. Irregularities identified by NGOs and independent observers raised significant doubts regarding authorities’ claims that Lukashenka received 80 percent of votes during the presidential election.

Government pressure against potential opposition presidential candidates began three months prior to the 2020 presidential election and continued through 2021 against those candidates who had run for president, as well as those who had expressed interest but were barred. This pressure included exile and prison sentences for prominent former candidates. Prior to the presidential election, authorities restricted the ability of challengers to register as candidates, restricted candidates from campaigning, pressured and detained presidential campaign teams, pressured citizens who showed support for opposition candidates, and detained members of the press to limit opposition coverage.

The OSCE rapporteur’s Report under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the 2020 presidential election, released in November 2020, detailed a wide range of allegations of electoral irregularities concerning: “1) non-timely invitation of international observers, 2) shortcomings in the appointments of election management bodies on all levels, 3) restrictions of the right to stand (for office), 4) limitations in election dispute resolution, 5) overall disregard for freedom of assembly, 6) unequal playing field for candidates, including non-transparency in campaign financing, 7) non-transparent early voting process, 8) overcrowding of polling stations, 9) missing checks and balances, lack of possibility for verifying the electoral results, and 10) inaccessibility of all steps of the electoral process for observation inhibiting the effective assessment of the elections.” The report stated that “in view of the evident shortcomings of the presidential elections which did not meet the basic requirements established on the basis of previous election monitoring and the observations by citizen, the presidential election have to be evaluated as falling short of fulfilling the country’s international commitments regarding elections. Allegations that the presidential elections were not transparent, free or fair were found confirmed.”

International observers assessed that the 2019 National Assembly elections also failed to meet international standards. According to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe election observation mission intermediate report, while the National Assembly elections proceeded calmly with a high number of candidates and observers, they did not meet important international standards for democratic elections, and there was an overall disregard for fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression.

The observation mission report on the National Assembly elections found that a high number of candidates stood for election, but an overly restrictive registration process inhibited the participation of opposition candidates. A limited amount of campaigning took place within a restrictive environment that, overall, did not provide for a meaningful or competitive political contest. Media coverage of the campaign did not enable voters to receive sufficient information about contestants. The election administration was dominated by the executive authority, limiting its impartiality and independence, and the integrity of the election process was not adequately safeguarded. Significant procedural shortcomings during the counting of votes raised concerns regarding whether results were counted and reported honestly, and an overall lack of transparency reduced the opportunity for meaningful observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Authorities routinely impeded the activities of opposition political parties and activists. Some opposition parties lacked legal status because authorities refused to register them, and the government routinely interfered with the right to organize, run for election, seek votes, and publicize views. As of November 17, the government allowed approximately six largely inactive but officially registered pro-Lukashenka political parties to operate. During the year the government used its monopoly on broadcast media to disparage the opposition and promote Lukashenka and pro-Lukashenka parties and to restrict the ability of opposition candidates to publicize their views. There were reports of government resources being used to benefit the incumbent ahead of the 2020 election, such as government officials campaigning for Lukashenka during working hours.

During the year authorities fined and arrested opposition political parties’ leaders and political activists for violating the law on mass events and participating in unauthorized demonstrations (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). The law allows authorities to suspend parties for six months after one warning and close them after two. The law also prohibits political parties from receiving support from abroad and requires all political groups and coalitions to register with the Ministry of Justice. Members of parties that continued to operate when authorities refused to register them, such as the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, continued to be subjected to harassment and arbitrary checks.

In August three political parties – the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), Belarusian Green Party, and Belarusian Left Party “Fair World” – were blocked from holding a conference on August 25 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of State Sovereignty, which commemorates the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. Multiple government agencies and hotels refused to rent space to hold the event.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups – including the ethnic Polish minority, persons with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals – in the political process, but the government’s patriarchal attitude disfavored women’s efforts to achieve positions of authority. As of September, of the country’s 30-member Council of Ministers, one minister was a woman. Women increasingly joined the opposition as leaders, served as vocal members of the opposition, led regular “women’s marches,” and participated in protests more broadly compared with previous elections, although historically marginalized women, including rural and older women, remained the most politically disengaged groups (see section 6, Women).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government appeared to prosecute regularly officials alleged to be corrupt. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem in the country. In 2019 the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) declared the country noncompliant with its anticorruption standards. The government did not publish evaluation or compliance reports, which according to GRECO’s executive secretary, “casted a dark shadow over the country’s commitment to preventing and combating corruption and to overall cooperation with GRECO.” In 2019 GRECO’s executive secretary repeated its concerns regarding the country’s “continuous noncompliance.”

Corruption: According to official sources, most corruption cases involved soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicated such corruption usually did not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials.

There were reports that individuals connected to Lukashenka received preferential treatment from his regime in the form of monopolies, tax breaks, favorable contracts, and other mechanisms, often codified by presidential decrees signed by Lukashenka himself. In exchange, they reportedly provided funds to Lukashenka and his inner circle, financed Lukashenka’s personal projects, and supported the regime publicly.

The absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a virtually eradicated independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy made it virtually impossible to gauge the scale of corruption or combat it effectively.

The most corrupt sectors were state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education.

On October 4, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that authorities detained the general managers of state-run meat-processing factories in Pinsk and Slutsk and directors of unspecified “commercial entities” allegedly associated with the factories. The former reportedly accepted bribes for unconditionally expediting shipments of high-demand meat products via commercial intermediaries to Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent State countries. According to the ministry, individual bribes were as high as $10,000, and the suspects were being held in pretrial detention.

On December 30, a Minsk district court convicted five former general managers of state-run sugar refineries, including the head of the Belarusian Sugar Company, on charges of giving and accepting multiple bribes up to $150,000 each and sentenced all to up to 13 years in prison. The court also ordered defendants to compensate more than 11 million rubles ($4.4 million) in damages. When they were reportedly detained and charged with accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in January 2020, Lukashenka accused them of “pocketing kickbacks and corruption” for allegedly selling sugar at low prices through intermediaries that exported it to Russia and illegally reimported it at higher prices. Additionally, state media reported in January 2020 that police also detained the former deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and Corruption, Uladzimir Tsikhinya, who allegedly facilitated defendants’ illegal activities and forewarned them of possible checks and inspections at refineries. When court hearings of the criminal case commenced on July 27, Tsikhinya did not attend any either as a witness or a defendant, and there were no reports regarding his status in the case. In general, corruption prosecutions remained selective and nontransparent.

Belgium

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. Voting in all elections is compulsory; failure to vote is punishable by a nominal fine.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections held in 2019 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In 2019 Sophie Wilmes became the country’s first female prime minister and oversaw the operation of the caretaker government. In October the country established a new federal government in which there were 10 female cabinet members, more than in any previous government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption, although no significant cases were reported during the year.

Belize

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 November 2020 an estimated 82 percent of registered voters participated in parliamentary elections. The People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly. Party leader John Briceno was sworn in as prime minister in November 2020. Diplomatic observers reported isolated cases of vote buying and violations of campaign rules, but the election in general was free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In August the Supreme Court ruled that the suspension of legislator Julius Espat by the then speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Peyrefitte was unconstitutional. In 2016 Peyrefitte ordered Espat to vacate the legislative chamber during a session for what he described as “disregarding the rules of conduct in parliament.” Espat refused to leave willingly and was forcibly removed by police officers. As a result of his suspension, Espat did not receive a salary or benefits until his return to the House of Representatives five months later. The court awarded Espat 95,000 Belize dollars ($47,500), to be paid by the government. Espat and Peyrefitte had disagreed in the past, especially when Espat intended to question the actions of the then government for perceived acts of corruption.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. Women remained a clear minority in government, making up only 13 percent of the 31-member House of Representatives. In the November 2020 parliamentary elections, 12 women candidates participated, an increase from past elections. A by-election was held on March 3 for the Corozal Bay electoral division that resulted in the election of a fourth woman to the House of Representatives. Of the 160 candidates in the March municipal election, 45 were women, of whom 51 percent were elected to office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, and chief executive officers, were numerous, although in most cases no substantial proof was presented.

In February the government instituted a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the sale of government assets between October 2019 and November 2020, including office equipment, furniture, and vehicles. The commission included a chairperson appointed by the government and one representative each from the Public Service Union (PSU) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. During the first phase of public hearings, the commission publicly questioned several high-ranking government officials, including former prime minister Dean Barrow, who was responsible for government property. In April the commission’s work was suspended after PSU representative Luke Martinez recused himself from the inquiry. Martinez stepped down in protest of the continued sale of public assets by the new administration; the same actions the commission was investigating. The commission’s investigation resumed on August 16.

On September 6, the BPD issued a wanted notice for the apprehension and arrest of former minister of works Rene Montero for the crime of “willful oppression.” The Ministry of Works investigated Montero’s use of human resources and government property to develop private property in which Montero had a personal financial interest. The commissioner of police stated Montero tried to leave the country on September 4 but was denied exit by immigration agents. As of November 15, Montero was presumed to be out of the country and there was a warrant for his arrest.

Benin

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. Constitutional amendments passed in 2019 requiring sponsorship from elected officials to participate as a presidential candidate, however, created a political process that is neither inclusive nor competitive. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were both limited throughout the presidential election political process.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 11, the government held a presidential election that excluded candidates from established opposition parties. Voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2016 to 27 percent according to the independent Electoral Platform of Civil Society Organizations and by 50 percent according to the government’s Independent National Electoral Commission. The Independent National Electoral Commission reported that voting did not take place in 16 of 546 districts due to violent demonstrations that prevented delivery of voting materials.

According to human rights activists, police in Tchaourou physically prevented voters from voting. During the campaign and immediately following the presidential election, police arrested more than 200 activists, opponents, and journalists, according to human rights organizations. ECOWAS observers, however, released a statement declaring that the “voting process took place in an orderly, transparent, and professional manner.” African Union observers released a statement calling the election “peaceful,” and International Francophone Organization observers released a statement stating that the “election complied with the legal measures, but without participation of all political parties.”

Legislative elections in 2019 excluded opposition parties; voter turnout was only 27 percent. Although there were incidents of voter interference by opposition demonstrators, election-day voting proceeded calmly in most of the country. Protesters in opposition strongholds in the central part of the country blocked some roads for much of the day, and media reported demonstrators in Parakou burned ballot materials at polling stations and prevented some citizens from voting. The government implemented an internet blackout on election day of social media sites, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Only three candidates qualified for the presidential election. Prior to the election, the Independent National Election Commission disqualified 17 of the 20 presidential candidates who had submitted applications, citing failure to meet various application requirements, including obtaining at least 16 sponsorships from National Assembly deputies and mayors, designating a vice presidential running mate, and paying a 50 million CFA francs ($92,000) registration fee.

In 2018 the National Assembly legislated more stringent requirements for parties to qualify to run in elections. In 2019, two months before the legislative elections, the Constitutional Court declared all parties must possess a “certificate of conformity” with requirements to participate in elections. The election commission announced that no opposition party met the requirements, leaving only two progovernment parties on elections ballots.

In late 2019 the National Assembly, in which two pro-Talon parties had all 83 seats, passed a constitutional amendment requiring that presidential candidates obtain sponsorship from elected officials. To implement this amendment, the National Assembly adopted changes to the electoral code requiring that presidential candidates obtain endorsements from at least 10 percent of the country’s National Assembly members (83) and mayors (77), thereby giving them a direct role in determining presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. During the year voters selected Mariam Talata as vice president, the first woman to hold that position. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. According to the Electoral Platform of Civil Society Organizations, 11 percent of women voted in the presidential election. There were reports that persons with motor disabilities were unable to access polling stations due to a lack of ramps and other means of access. There were also reports that no measures were taken at polling stations for blind persons to complete their ballots.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively; however, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

Corruption: According to the newspaper Matin Libre, traffic police routinely solicited bribes from truckers in exchange for not enforcing the law against overloaded and unsafe vehicles.

The government took several actions during the year to combat corruption. For example, CRIET convicted Port of Cotonou officials Jean-Baptiste Houngue, Rodrigue Glele-Kakai, and Frederic Behazin of corruption and on August 2, fined and sentenced them to five-year prison terms.

Bhutan

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 2018 the government successfully held national elections. Voter participation was estimated at approximately 66 percent in the first round and 71 percent in the second round. International observers generally considered the elections free and fair. There were no reports of significant irregularities during the election process. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in June the Election Commission conducted by-elections for National Assembly seats for the Mongar and Nganglam constituencies and in November 2020 for the Chhoekhor Tang constituency.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law prohibits ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from voting or participating in politics.

Women were underrepresented in public office. Women occupied eight seats (17 percent) in the 47-member National Assembly. Seven of the 10 female candidates who contested 2018 National Assembly elections were elected, an increase from three in the previous election. One of the three recent by-elections had a female candidate elected to the National Assembly. There were three women in the 25-member upper house or National Council.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In April a district court sentenced two former bank employees convicted of embezzlement to 11 years’ imprisonment each. The former bank employees were convicted for forging and tampering with the account information of 67 clients between 2012 and 2019.

The government took an active role in addressing official corruption through the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly and the Royal Audit Authority, which monitored the use of government funds. The ACC is authorized to investigate cases of official and private sector corruption and allows citizens to submit information to its website regarding corrupt practices. The constitution enables the ACC to act as an independent body, although its investigative staff were primarily civil servants answerable to the Royal Civil Service Commission. The ACC has the authority to suspend the registration of civil society organizations under investigation.

The 2019 ACC report detailed 165 complaints of “abuse of functions,” 13 of embezzlement, nine of bribery, and 148 other related corruption offenses. In June the Good Governance Committee of the National Assembly submitted the Anti-Corruption Commission Annual Report 2019 to the parliament.

Bolivia

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: National elections took place in October 2020. MAS candidate Luis Arce won the election for president with 55 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, Citizen Community candidate Carlos Mesa, won 28.8 percent of the vote. The elections were peaceful, and Mesa conceded soon after the release of the preliminary vote tabulations. International electoral observation missions and domestic electoral observation organizations characterized the elections as free, fair, and transparent. In November 2020 Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca were sworn in as president and vice president, respectively, along with the 36 newly elected members of the Senate and 130 members of the Chamber of Deputies.

Subnational elections took place on March 8. The elections were marked by an atmosphere of peace and calm. International and national electoral observation missions monitored the elections and reported the elections met international standards. Electoral authorities reported the overall participation in voting was 85 percent. No-shows by many citizen poll workers led to delays in opening some voting booths and long lines for voters, especially in La Paz and El Alto. By law each voting booth must be supervised by citizen poll workers chosen randomly by computer from the official voter roll. Many experts attributed the high no-show rate of these poll workers to either COVID-19 pandemic fears or concerns regarding the complicated nature of the poll work for subnational elections. President Arce publicly criticized electoral authorities. By noon on election day, electoral authorities confirmed all voting booths had opened, and absent poll workers were fined 630 bolivianos ($92), as required by law.

There were reports the government exerted pressure on the independent electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). On July 1, MAS deputy Ramiro Venegas brought charges against TSE president Oscar Hassenteufel and TSE vice president Nancy Gutierrez for “not cooperating” with the legislature. On July 15, MAS deputy Jhonny Pardo filed a separate criminal complaint against existing and former TSE members, including Salvador Romero, Rosario Baptista, Maria Angelica Ruiz, and Nancy Gutierrez, for their decision to reinstate opposition leader Manfred Reyes Villa as candidate for Cochabamba mayor in the March subnational elections. Civil society activists denounced these charges as politically motivated and lacking substance. They cited them as evidence that the ruling MAS party was trying to control the independent electoral authority.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups:  No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at national, regional, and municipal legislative levels.

While women had a substantial amount of representation on the legislative level, occupying 52 percent of legislative seats, they remained significantly underrepresented in executive positions. Candidates for mayor, governor, vice president, and president were not chosen from party lists. Most executive political positions were held by men.

Women participating in politics faced violence and harassment. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received.

On February 19, Juana Rojas Choque, a National Action Party of Bolivia (PAN-BOL) candidate for the municipal election in Puerto Villarroel, went into hiding because MAS supporters threatened to kill her and her family if she did not resign her candidacy. Before local elections in Copacabana on March 7, Nelly Tito Diaz was verbally and physically attacked for running as a PAN-BOL candidate after having been a member of the MAS-aligned Confederation of Female Indigenous Farmers (Bartolina Sisa). The ombudsman declared that any act of harassment and political violence must be punished, and investigations were opened in both cases.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Authorities apprehended Minister of Rural Development and Lands Edwin Characayo on April 12 for taking a $20,000 bribe in exchange for land titles and agriculture-drainage services. On April 14, Minister of Justice Lima stated Characayo was the subject of a criminal investigation involving “authorities at different levels of the state.”

On July 13, anticorruption prosecutor Anghelo Saravia was convicted of taking bribes to drop charges against potential defendants. Saravia was recorded taking the bribe during a sting operation. Civil society activists reported that situations such as Saravia’s were common and that prosecutors usually took $2,500 per case to drop charges.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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. Observers noted several shortcomings, however.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held general elections in 2018 and local elections in 2020. The results of the 2018 general elections were not fully implemented, as the Federation entity government and Herzegovina-Neretva Cantonal government were not yet formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that the 2018 elections were held in a competitive environment but were characterized by continuing segmentation along ethnic lines. While candidates could campaign freely, the office noted that “instances of pressure and undue influence on voters were not effectively addressed,” citing long-standing deficiencies in the legal framework. The office further noted that elections were administered efficiently, but widespread credible allegations of electoral contestants’ manipulating the composition of polling station commissions reduced voter confidence in the integrity of the process. More than 60 complaints of alleged election irregularities were filed with the BiH Central Election Commission.

BiH municipal elections and separate elections in the city of Mostar were held in 2020. Amendments to the election law in 2020 paved the way for the city of Mostar to hold its first local elections in 12 years, bringing BiH into compliance with the ECHR decision in Baralija v. BiH. In 2019 the ECHR ruled in favor of Irma Baralija, a local politician from Mostar, who sued the state for preventing her from voting or running for office in elections in the city of Mostar, where local elections had not been held since 2008. The court found that a legal void had been created by authorities’ failure to implement a 2010 Constitutional Court ruling on the arrangements for local elections in Mostar. In December 2020, Mostar city elections were held accordingly. Civil society and international community observers characterized the process as generally free and fair. The Mostar City Council met for the first time in a new convocation on February 5, and a new mayor was elected on February 15.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively nor prioritize public corruption as a serious problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Courts have not processed high-level corruption cases, and in most of the finalized cases, suspended sentences were pronounced. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and corruption remained prevalent in many political and economic institutions. Corruption was especially prevalent in the health and education sectors, public procurement processes, local governance, and public administration employment procedures.

The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but political pressure often prevented the application of these mechanisms. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. There are internal affairs investigative units within all police agencies. Throughout the year, mostly with assistance from the international community, the government provided training to police and security forces designed to combat abuse and corruption and promote respect for human rights. The field training manuals for police officers also include ethics and anticorruption training components.

Corruption: While the public viewed corruption as endemic in the public sphere, there was little public demand for the prosecution of corrupt officials. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence and judiciary appointments were not merit based, and the accountability of judges and prosecutors was low. The multitude of state, entity, cantonal, and municipal administrations, each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business, created a system that lacked transparency and provided opportunities for corruption. The multilevel government structure gave corrupt officials ample opportunities to demand “service fees,” especially in the local government institutions.

Analysts considered the legal framework for prevention of corruption to be satisfactory across almost all levels of government and attributed the absence of high-profile prosecutions to a lack of political will. Many state-level institutions tasked with fighting corruption, such as the Agency for Prevention and Fight against Corruption, had limited authority with no executive powers and remained under resourced. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence, and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) was at the center of corruption scandals, which resulted in the resignation of the president of the council, Milan Tegeltija, due to his alleged involvement in corruption. As soon as he resigned, Tegeltija was appointed as an advisor to the Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik. The accountability of judges and prosecutors was low, and appointments were often not merit based. Prosecutions also were considered generally ineffective and subject to political manipulation, often resulting in suspended sentences or prison sentences below mandatory minimum sentences. By the end of 2020, there were 50 high-level corruption cases in all prosecutor’s offices. Investigation was ongoing in 20 cases; an order not to proceed with investigation was issued in three cases; and trial was ongoing in 27 cases. According to a Transparency International report, the number of corruption investigations decreased – especially in the Federation and RS entities – over the past five years. The report underlined that it is especially worrisome that more than half of criminal corruption charges end up with an order not to investigate. TI stated that this indicated inadequate cooperation between prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement agencies.

The Court of BiH sentenced Kemal Causevic, former director of the Indirect Taxation Authority, to nine years’ imprisonment for accepting bribes and money laundering.

According to professors and students, corruption continued at all levels of the higher education system. Professors at several universities reported that bribery was common and that they experienced pressure from colleagues and superiors to give higher grades to students with family or political connections. There were credible allegations of corruption in public procurement, public employment, and health-care services.

The COVID-19 pandemic was misused for different corrupt activities; one of the most significant cases concerned procurement of unusable respirators from China worth approximately six million dollars. In the Federation, Prime Minister Fadil Novalic, Minister of Finance Jelka Milicevic, and Director of Civil Protection Fahrudin Solak were charged by the Court of BiH for corruption. As of November the main trial in the case was still ongoing.

Botswana

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 Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority in the 2019 parliamentary elections, returning President Mokgweetsi Masisi to office for a full five-year term and continuing the party’s control of the government dating from independence in 1966. Outside observers generally considered the vote credible; however, opposition parties challenged some of the election results in court, citing primarily irregularities with voter registrations. The Court of Appeals dismissed all claims and ordered the opposition parties and petitioners to pay court costs. Some losing opposition candidates had to sell personal property to cover court fees.

Using COVID-19 state of emergency powers, the government postponed indefinitely 11 special elections, scheduled from 2019 onwards, for district council seats to replace lawmakers who died. These elections took place in December.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In July 2020 the National Assembly suspended the leader of the opposition (an officially designated position), Dumelang Saleshando, for one week for accusing members of President Masisi’s family of improperly manipulating the government tendering process. The speaker of the National Assembly, who was appointed by the president, called for the suspension vote. In August the High Court ruled that the speaker’s actions were irrational and unprocedural because he violated Saleshando’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression and speech as a duly elected representative of the people. The only BDP member of parliament to vote against Saleshando’s suspension during the year left the party to join the opposition.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, observers suggested the lack of support from political parties, fundraising challenges, and cultural constraints, including the sexual exploitation of women in politics, limited the number of women in government. There were seven women in the 65-seat National Assembly, three of whom were elected and four appointed by President Masisi. The president named five female members of parliament to serve in the 30-member cabinet. There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.

While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs. The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights. Outside observers noted many tribes were unrecognized or unrepresented, and women were underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.

The election authority makes accommodation for persons with disabilities during voting, including providing ballots in braille upon request and installing temporary ramps at polling places. During the 2019 national election, polling places were established in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area inhabited primarily by indigenous groups. There are no restrictions on LGBTQI+ persons seeking to take part in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively. Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however. Media reports of government corruption continued. During the year there were numerous reports of government corruption, including allegations tied to tenders issued by local governments for COVID-19 projects, such as renovating public facilities so that they complied with virus prevention measures, as well as in the acquisition of personal protective equipment. A 2019 poll by Transparency International found that 7 percent of those polled had paid bribes to government officials, an increase from the 1 percent who reported paying bribes in a 2015 poll.

Corruption: In July 2020 former permanent secretary to presidents Khama and Masisi, Carter Morupisi, and his wife stood trial on charges of abuse of office, money laundering, and receiving bribes. A decision remained pending at year’s end. An embezzlement case against the former chief of DISS, Isaac Kgosi, ended in November 2020 when the Gaborone High Court dismissed the case for lack of evidence. On August 23, a court also dismissed a case against Welheminah Mphoeng Maswabi, a former DISS agent accused of facilitating a $10 billion theft of bonds from the Bank of Botswana by Kgosi and former president Ian Khama. Neither was charged in the case, although government court filings in the agent’s case implicated the pair. Khama responded by filing a formal complaint in April against government investigators, alleging they committed perjury by naming him in the agent’s case.

Brazil

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 national elections held in 2018, citizens chose former federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro as president and elected 54 senators and 513 federal deputies to the national legislature and 27 governors and state legislators to state governments. National observers and media considered the elections free and fair. Municipal elections in November 2020 saw record numbers of indigenous and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) candidates run and win positions across the country while women made modest gains.

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

In August 2020 the Superior Electoral Court decided that publicly provided funds for campaign financing and advertising time on radio and television must be divided proportionally between Black and white candidates in elections. The decision, scheduled to take effect in 2022, was made in response to calls from Afro-Brazilian activists.

The law requires parties and coalitions to have a minimum quota of 30 percent women on the list of candidates for congressional representatives (state and national), mayors, and city council members. By law 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In the 2018 elections, some parties fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In 2018 the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions, representing only 15 percent of federal deputies and 13 percent of federal senators.

Using data from Electoral Justice, CNN reported that more than 43,400 politicians, approximately 25 percent, changed their “color/race” declaration on candidacy forms in 2020. More than 17,300 candidates changed their declaration from white to Black or brown, while approximately 14,500 changed from Black or brown to white. Political parties were pressured to include more persons of color, including the establishment of a new electoral rule to provide additional funding and awareness to campaigns of Black and brown candidates. The candidates interviewed cited different reasons for their decisions, such as to correct a previous error or to acknowledge a racial identity they now believed they were empowered to recognize.

Observers reported that militias and drug trafficking organizations interfered in electoral processes by using violence and intimidation to “corral” votes, influence candidate lists, and limit rival candidates’ ability to access and campaign in some highly populated neighborhoods. This interference was particularly significant in municipal and state elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for convictions of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption during the year at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for elected officials. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, officially ended in February. Despite the operation’s continued popularity with the public, the investigating task force was dissolved after widespread concerns regarding the process and fairness of the prosecutions. Some prosecutors were transferred to the organized crime unit of the Federal Public Ministry to continue their work. During its seven years of existence, Operation Carwash was responsible for 295 arrests and 278 convictions and saw R$ 4.3 billion ($769.6 million) in recovered funds returned to the government.

On April 30, a Rio de Janeiro Special Tribunal voted unanimously to impeach Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel for involvement in the embezzlement scheme related to contracts for COVID-19 response, permanently removing him from office and making him ineligible for public office for five years. The impeachment followed an August 2020 decision by STF Minister Benedito Goncalves to remove Witzel from office for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response.

On April 29, police arrested Marcus Vinicius Rebello Gomes, municipal secretary of health in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro State, and four other suspects for their participation in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the city’s COVID-19 response. On June 8, the state’s Court of Justice ruled that Itatiaia Mayor Imbere Moreira Alves, his chief of staff, and three municipal secretaries should be removed from office on corruption charges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the municipality

Brunei

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government. The sultan rules through hereditary birthright. While the country is a constitutional sultanate, in 1962 the then ruler invoked an article of the constitution that allows him to assume emergency powers. The sultan has renewed the emergency powers every two years.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Political authority and control rest entirely with the sultan. The Legislative Council, composed primarily of appointed members with little independent power, provided a forum for limited public discussion of proposed government programs, budgets, and administrative deficiencies. It convenes once per year in March for approximately two weeks. Council members serve five-year terms at the pleasure of the sultan.

Persons age 18 and older may vote by secret ballot in village consultative council elections. Candidates must be Muslim, approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and have been a citizen or permanent resident for more than 15 years. The councils communicated constituent wishes to higher authorities through a variety of channels, including periodic meetings chaired by the minister of home affairs. The government also met with groups of elected village chiefs to allow them to express local grievances and concerns.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The National Development Party was the only registered political party. The party pledged to support the sultan and the government and made no criticisms of the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The constitution requires that all ministers be of Malay ethnicity and Muslim except as permitted by the sultan. The cabinet included an ethnic Chinese minister. Members of non-Malay indigenous communities lacked representation at all levels of government. Women accounted for more than half of civil service employees, and many held senior positions, including at the deputy minister level; no woman has ever been appointed as a minister. Women are subject to an earlier mandatory retirement age than men (55 versus 60 years), which may inhibit their career progression. The law requires that elected village heads be Malay Muslim men; questioning of this requirement by a female Legislative Council member in March resulted in unusually contentious online discussions, ending with a pledge by the minister of home affairs to “consider” a change in policy.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: Although corruption was not pervasive, the sultan publicly criticized several ministries for poor performance, intimating budget mismanagement among other shortcomings. During his latest inspection in December 2020, the sultan called out the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports for dismal job prospects for children with disabilities and poor preparation of athletes competing in international events. The sentences for a husband-and-wife duo of former judges convicted in 2020 for misappropriating and laundering more than 11.5 million Brunei dollars ($15.75 million) in government funds were increased by the court of appeal to 7.5 and 15 years, respectively. The case maintained high public interest because the husband was the son of the minister of religious affairs and the wife the daughter of a retired high ranking military officer.

Bulgaria

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 early National Assembly elections on November 14 and a two-round presidential election on November 14 and 21. A Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) observer delegation described the elections as competitive and respecting fundamental freedoms. Transparency International Bulgaria said the elections occurred without major election law violations but noted “unacceptable foreign interference” due to reports of Turkish political parties campaigning on behalf of Bulgarian candidates on election day and facilitating voting by Bulgarian citizens residing in Turkey. The caretaker government took measures to prevent vote-buying, although some political parties asserted they were selectively targeted by the Ministry of Interior’s actions which they claimed interfered with their ability to campaign.

There were no reports of major irregularities during the regularly scheduled National Assembly elections on April 4 or the early National Assembly elections on July 11. Most political commentators, including the election observation missions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), considered both elections in line with fundamental freedoms, while noting that during the April elections “massive use of state resources gave the ruling party a significant advantage.” In April and July, the Association of European Journalists issued declarations calling on politicians to abandon the use of “hate speech, sexist, and disrespectful rhetoric.”

ODIHR criticized the existence of legislative “gaps, repetitive and ambiguous provisions, and inconsistencies,” including prisoner disenfranchisement and insufficient measures promoting the participation of women and members of minority groups. NGOs reported that address registration laws limited the ability of Roma occupying illegal housing to obtain identity cards, which in turn restricted their ability to register for and vote in elections.

NGOs accused authorities of negligence and failure to exercise flexibility and provide alternatives for approximately 14,000 persons quarantined in the last few days before the April elections, who faced a penalty if they went to the polling station. In March the ombudsman expressed concern that 2,000 technical personnel responsible for voting machines would be unable to vote because election authorities refused to allow them to vote anywhere other than in their originally assigned polling stations, as required by law.

In May and June, the caretaker government replaced many local police chiefs and all regional governors, claiming it was a measure to prevent vote-buying and voter intimidation. The Ministry of Interior conducted a campaign against vote-buying across the country ahead of the July and November early National Assembly elections, resulting in more than 1,000 case files, nearly 100 pretrial proceedings, and the freezing of 800,000 levs ($462,000) in cash and assets suspected as earmarked for vote-buying. Some political parties complained this campaign only targeted select parties and was used to intimidate their voters. Roma activists alleged the campaign was predominantly focused on Roma neighborhoods and aimed to intimidate and disenfranchise Romani voters. On November 9, the NGO Amalipe publicly protested police operations against vote-buying in Romani neighborhoods in Ruse, Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv, Montana, and other regions using an “unnecessary demonstration of force by breaking into suspects’ homes after breaking down doors and in front of children and very old people.” Amalipe and other NGOs and activists defended Lalo Kamenov, a Romani candidate for the National Assembly, whose parents’ apartment became a target of police action, alleging it was done to intimidate him. The NGO insisted the police operations “further solidify the false stereotype that vote-buying only takes place in Roma neighborhoods” and will have an adverse effect on Roma voting activity.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires a political party to have at least 2,500 members to register officially. The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines, but the prohibition did not appear to weaken the role of some ethnic minorities in the political process, as several parties represented various ethnic minority groups. NGOs may not engage in political activity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women held mayoral offices in 38 out of 265 municipalities and 23 percent of elected seats in the 47th National Assembly. There were no Romani members in the National Assembly, and Roma were underrepresented in appointed leadership positions compared to the size of their population. Ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) held elected positions at the local level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

In March the government adopted a new national strategy and roadmap on preventing and combating corruption for the period 2021-27, with a focus on combating high-level corruption. The government simultaneously adopted a report on the implementation of the preceding five-year anticorruption strategy, stating it had achieved its main goal to build stronger anticorruption capacity in the country. In September the caretaker government updated the roadmap for implementing the new strategy, acknowledging corruption at all levels and adding a focus on reducing corruption at the local level. NGOs alleged authorities applied the anticorruption law arbitrarily and selectively and assessed corruption prosecutions as ineffective and leading to few convictions.

Corruption: The prosecution service reported working on 274 pretrial investigations in 2020, which resulted in 17 indictments involving 56 persons and five convictions. In July the NGO Anticorruption Fund reported that in the previous five years it had monitored investigations against 63 high-profile former ministers, deputy ministers, National Assembly members, magistrates, mayors, and regional governors. The Anticorruption Fund also noted a further decline in anticorruption prosecutions, with zero convictions.

In June caretaker government ministers reported that 8.6 billion levs ($4.97 billion) of contracts (more than 40 percent) awarded by state-owned companies under the previous government since 2019 used in-house procedures and did not go through public procurement processes. The regional development minister cited an example in which the government awarded more than 1.5 billion levs ($867 million) to the state-owned Motorways company, which subcontracted a large part of the money to private companies in advance payments for projects that had not been launched yet.

In May the appellate specialized criminal court found seven customs officials guilty of extorting bribes from drivers crossing the Lesovo border checkpoint and sentenced them to pay a 5,000 lev ($2,890) fine each. As of December the trial against the former head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev, and three other employees of the agency was ongoing at the specialized criminal court. The four were charged with receiving bribes and trading in influence to aid foreign citizens in obtaining the Bulgarian passports.

Burkina Faso

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: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 2020 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore, ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity, including the majority of IDPs of voting age. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The National Assembly adopted a bill in August 2020 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of many voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In September 2020 the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 2020 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported an anti-constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. The electoral law allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 2020 elections. In March 2020 a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 2020 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared with 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of Seydou Zagre, the president’s chief of staff, for money laundering. He answered the summons of the investigating judge of the Ouagadougou Court on June 18. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Burma

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Prior to the coup, the constitution provided citizens a limited ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot. The military deposed the democratically elected parliament and dissolved the Union Election Commission (UEC), appointing a former military major general to replace the ousted UEC chairman. On July 26, the military regime UEC announced that it had annulled the results of the November 2020 general elections, which domestic and international observers assessed as largely reflective of the will of the electorate, despite some identified irregularities and local election cancellations in some ethnic areas.

On October 16, the regime UEC announced that upcoming regional elections were cancelled across most of Rakhine State and in various other ethnic areas in Kachin State, Shan State and elsewhere.

The regime used laws against terrorism to arrest and punish groups and individuals who were active in the country’s precoup political life. The regime designated the NUG, the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, and PDF groups as unlawful terrorist organizations. According to the law, anyone associated with these groups could face 10 years to life in prison, although no one had come to trial as of year’s end.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2020 national elections to be generally reflective of the will of the population, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 80 percent of the 1,150 contested seats at the state, regional, and union levels in those elections. The NLD won 396 of 476 races for national assembly seats; a military-affiliated party won 33, and various ethnic parties took 47 seats. The 2008 constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency due to her marriage to a British national.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties faced narrowing political space amid regime investigations and threats to ban them from competing in elections. Political parties not aligned with the military were denied the rights to assemble and protest peacefully. The military regime, moreover, conducted politically motivated investigations into prodemocracy political parties and their leaders, particularly the NLD. In May the UEC began investigations into the 93 registered political parties, including financial audits. In an August 27 letter, the UEC threatened that if political parties did not submit financial statements, their party registration could be suspended.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and they did participate in elections. Laws limiting the citizenship status of many ethnic minority groups (see “Stateless Persons” above) also limited their rights to participate in political life. Women and members of historically marginalized and minority groups were underrepresented in government prior to the coup. Some policies (as opposed to laws and regulations) limited women’s participation in practice.

In the 2020 general elections, 194 women were elected to parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Since the coup, the Anti-Corruption Commission has regularly targeted deposed NLD politicians and other former civilian government leaders for prosecution under anticorruption law. As of November, the commission charged at least 45 former NLD and civilian government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi, former president Win Myint, union-level ministers, and state and region ministers appointed by the previous government. Most observers considered these charges baseless.

Corruption was widespread in all dimensions of political life, including especially the judicial system. Petty extortion by police was paralleled by more serious graft at higher levels, such as demanding bribes from victims to conduct criminal investigations.

Corruption: Although corruption was widespread, unlike the civilian government it overthrew, the regime used corruption laws almost exclusively against opponents, as noted. Such cases, which often relied on coerced testimony, did not provide an accurate picture of actual corruption.

Burundi

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, but the government did not respect that right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2020 the country held legislative, communal, and presidential elections without international observers. The CNDD-FDD candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, won the election with 68 percent of the vote. The government also held Senate elections in July 2020. The CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

The elections were deeply flawed with irregularities that undermined the credibility of the process, including blocking independent international observers. The government opened the political space slightly, allowing participation of opposition parties and permitting them to carry out campaign activities across the country. According to the 2020 COI report, opposition parties cited irregularities during the vote tabulation process, including the expulsion of accredited party-affiliated monitors from voting stations. The international community and independent domestic organizations widely condemned the process as flawed, although domestic and international actors generally accepted the election outcomes. Several progovernment CSOs observed and validated the elections. The CNL rejected the results of the election and filed an appeal, which the Constitutional Court dismissed.

The COI noted the presidential election was largely free of mass violence. There were reports of incidents of violence during the election period, namely clashes between members of the ruling party and opposition party, which resulted in injuries and deaths in some cases. The COI stated that opposition political parties and their members, mainly the CNL, suffered serious human rights abuses in the run-up to elections. There were reports of targeted killings, kidnappings, gender-based violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests. Media remained under strict control, and journalists were unable to carry out their duties freely. The CNIDH declared that incidents of human rights abuses were too insignificant to affect the credibility of results, as announced.

The National Independent Elections Commission imposed restrictive conditions, such as limiting movement of locally-based foreign observers and rejecting AU and UN observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system and provides rights for parties and their candidates including assurance for authorities’ noninterference in political parties’ affairs. According to the law, to qualify for public campaign funding and compete in the parliamentary and presidential elections, parties needed to be “nationally based,” (i.e., ethnically and regionally diverse) and prove in writing they were organized and had membership in all provinces. The Ministry of the Interior recognized 36 political parties. In 2019 the Ministry of the Interior registered the previously unapproved National Forces of Liberation-Rwasa under the new name, the CNL. The Union for National Progress, led by Evariste Ngayimpenda, remained unrecognized, except for a small faction that broke off and pledged its allegiance to the ruling party. All registered political parties regularly met through the National Forum of Political Parties, the minister of interior’s institution for political dialogue. In addition, President Ndayishimiye met regularly with leaders of political parties to discuss topics of importance to the country and sought their input. Government officials praised the discussion’s framework for promoting political unity, while critics argued it served mainly for publicity and did not touch on sensitive political topics.

Political parties allied with the CNDD-FDD were largely able to operate freely. The COI reported political violence subsided and that hate speech against opponents was replaced by official calls for political tolerance. Media and human rights organizations, however, reported abuses including arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearance against political opponents, mainly CNL members, by the Imbonerakure and unidentified armed men in retaliation for political engagement and alleged involvement in armed groups responsible for security incidents in the country. The COI reported that some CNL members were victims of enforced disappearance in the months following the 2020 elections and were seen for the last time being taken away by state agents or members of the Imbonerakure. In some rural communities, CNL offices were ransacked or destroyed.

The constitution includes restrictions on independent candidates, including a measure that prevents individuals from running as independents if they had claimed membership in a political party within the previous year or if they had occupied a leadership position in a political party within the previous two years. The constitution also provides that independent candidates for the National Assembly must receive at least 40 percent of the vote in their district to be elected, a standard that did not apply to candidates representing political parties. The constitution’s ban on coalitions for independents further constrained the options for unrecognized parties.

Individuals often needed membership in, or perceived loyalty to, the ruling CNDD-FDD party to obtain or retain employment in the civil service and the benefits that accrued from such positions, including transportation allowances, free housing, electricity, and water, exemption from personal income taxes, and interest-free loans. The COI reported that individuals were forced to make payments – often with no legal basis – to support the CNDD-FDD on penalty of being denied access to public services and spaces or the issuance of administrative documents. In December online media reported that candidates for leadership positions of the Burundi Football Federation who were not members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party received death threats and were told to withdraw their candidacies.

There were reports opposition-aligned election observers were not allowed full access to monitor elections.

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

The constitution reserves 30 percent of positions in the National Assembly, Senate, and Council of Ministers for women and the government respected this requirement. This was implemented under the electoral code by adding seats to meet the gender requirement and by closed-list voting, whereby voters choose a political party, and the party provides the order in which candidates are selected, taking gender into account. In the sitting government, approximately 38 percent of seats in the National Assembly and 41 percent of seats in the Senate were filled by women, and five of 15 ministers were women. Women were not well represented in political parties and held very few leadership positions. Some observers believed that tradition and cultural factors kept women from participating in politics on an equal basis with men.

The constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent; however, a Ligue Iteka report published in February indicated the ethnic quota was not respected in many public institutions. The law designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which makes up approximately 1 percent of the population.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Some high-level government officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The constitution provides for the establishment of a High Court of Justice to review accusations of serious crimes against high-ranking government officials, but the court does not yet exist. The anticorruption law also applies to all other citizens, but no high-ranking official to date has stood trial for corruption.

Corruption: The public widely viewed police to be corrupt, and petty corruption involving police was commonplace. There were numerous allegations of corruption in the government, including incidents related to the lack of transparency of budget revenue involving gasoline importation; the trading in influence and abuse of office or power; the mismanagement of public tenders and contracts, including in the health and mining sectors; misappropriation of public funds; customs fraud; and the appropriation of the country’s limited foreign currency reserves to finance imports. The Burundian Revenue Office has an internal antifraud unit, but observers accused its officials of fraud.

Authorities undertook noteworthy anticorruption initiatives, including dismissing high-level officials as well as hundreds of other low-level officials accused of malfeasance and targeting some high-profile corruption schemes. The Ministry of Interior was charged with leading anticorruption efforts as part of President Ndayishimiye’s new anticorruption campaign. The ministry continued a “zero tolerance toward corruption” campaign and kept suggestion boxes in all commune offices and government ministries to allow the population to report corrupt activities. The minister of interior also maintained a toll-free telephone number to allow citizens to report corruption and malpractice.

In February all Bujumbura-based tax collectors were fired after authorities discovered a shortfall of more than 40 billion Burundian francs ($20.4 million) in annual taxes compared with estimates of what should have been collected.

On May 1, President Ndayishimiye fired Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism Immaculee Ndabaneze, and media reported that she was detained before being released shortly thereafter. According to the relevant decree, the minister was dismissed for acts that risked compromising the country’s economy and tarnishing its image. The NGO corruption watchdog OLUCOME opined that the minister’s departure was linked to the illegal sale of the last plane of the now defunct Air Burundi fleet and for allegedly embezzling funds intended to fund the country’s future flagship carrier, Burundi Airlines. President Ndayishimiye also fired Ndabaneze’s replacement, Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism Capitoline Niyonizigiye, on November 18, via a decree. Soon after, media sources reported that Niyonizigiye had engaged in inappropriate use of government resources by including family members and friends in the country’s official delegation to the 2020 Dubai Expo.

On September 14, the Senate dismissed Senate Vice President Spes-Caritas Njebarikanuye after her company sold sugar at rates higher than prescribed limits.

In a setback for anticorruption initiatives, in April the National Assembly approved a law disbanding the anticorruption special court and the anticorruption police unit. The anticorruption court’s authorities were transferred to the office of the attorney general and courts of appeals, and the anticorruption police unit’s authorities were delegated to the judicial police. The NGO anticorruption watchdog OLUCOME criticized the decision and warned it risked hindering anticorruption efforts. They requested that the government restructure the institutions instead of abolishing them.

The COI report stated that President Ndayishimiye acknowledged the corruption problem in the country and made the fight against corruption one of his priorities but noted that reforms had been modest and that most of the steps taken were symbolic gestures. In some cases public servants were accused of misappropriation of funds without thorough investigations or judicial proceedings, and there were collective punishments that appeared arbitrary.

Cabo Verde

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 the April 18 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The ruling party, Movement for Democracy, won 38 seats in the National Assembly with 49 percent of the vote. The main opposition party, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 30 seats with 38 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining four seats with 8 percent of the vote.

The most recent presidential election took place in October. Jose Maria Neves won the election with the support of the PAICV and nearly 52 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized the legislative elections as free, transparent, and credible while observers from ECOWAS and the African Union assessed the presidential election as transparent, peaceful, and free of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The National Elections Commission did not allow some persons with mental disabilities to vote (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Women remained underrepresented in positions within the central government and the Supreme Court of Justice, especially in prosecutorial positions. Women held 26 of the 72 National Assembly seats (36 percent), an increase from 17 in the previous National Assembly, and occupied five of the 18 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled two of the seven seats on the Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Authorities opened a criminal investigation of a Judicial Police inspector accused of narcotrafficking, money laundering, corruption, and extortion.

Cambodia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although 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, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.

Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.

Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.

Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.

In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The National Council Against Corruption and its Anticorruption Unit are authorized by law to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The unit, however, did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, it focused on investigations of opposition figures, leading to a widespread perception that it served the interests of the ruling CPP. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Unit has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, in June activists renewed allegations against National Assembly member and former provincial governor Prak Chan for involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber to Vietnam after his name was put forward as a candidate for the National Election Committee, but authorities took no action against him. In August the unit arrested two individuals for impersonating government officials, but otherwise had not arrested anyone since 2016 when it arrested five employees of a prominent human rights NGO and an opposition party member serving as commune chief. Similarly only one financial disclosure statement was ever unsealed, that of then National Assembly vice president and opposition CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of both legal and illegal businesses.

Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials. In January, Le Changsangvath, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, was accused of soliciting a 60-million-riel ($15,000) bribe. Instead of investigating, the Ministry of Health dismissed the allegation and claimed that those who made the complaint were trying to provoke social chaos. On October 25, police surrounded the house of Kong Kheang, an official from the ruling CPP, who had accused Land Management Minister Chea Sophara of demanding bribes from lower officials in exchange for their position promotions in the party and in the government. Police threatened him and his family. In July the government granted 425 acres of land (designated as state forest) to real estate tycoon (and former government official) Leng Pheaktra (commonly known as Leng Navatra).

Cameroon

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, however, were often marked by irregularities, although no elections were conducted during the year.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2020 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative elections and 43 participated in the municipal elections. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Northwest and Southwest Regions due to voter turnout of less than 10 percent. Legislative reruns occurred in the 11 constituencies in March 2020. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significant numbers of seats when compared with previous elections. Overall, eight opposition political parties won seats in the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Additionally, irregularities including lack of equal access to media and campaign space, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and regional administrative courts to annul some legislative elections.

Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections in 2020. The lower turnout could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. In December 2020 the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after provisions for regional elections in the 1996 constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in the February 2020 elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although political opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections for failing to meaningfully decentralize power.

In 2018 Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marred by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of the end of December, the country had approximately 330 registered political parties. During the year the government accredited 11 new political parties “to enrich the political debate and encourage the expression of freedoms.” The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of state funds to promote party campaigns, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and undue influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who received salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the 2018 presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. Conversely, membership in some opposition political parties, especially the MRC, was often associated with threats and intimidation from the government.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities, or persons with disabilities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. There were no official laws limiting the participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; however, observers noted social stigma and criminalization of same-sex conduct may have deterred LGBTQI+ persons from openly participating in the political process. In parliament women occupied 87 of 280 seats, 61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions. The minority Baka, a nomadic indigenous group, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government, although there were no laws limiting their participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and failure to declare a known conflict of interest. Reporting corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. In addition to the laws, the National Anticorruption Agency (CONAC), Special Criminal Court, National Financial Investigation Agency, Ministry in Charge of Supreme State Audit, and Audit Bench of the Supreme Court also contributed to fighting corruption in the country. CONAC, the most prominent of the anticorruption agencies, was constrained by the absence of any legislative or presidential mandate that could empower it to combat corruption. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not always required to forfeit their ill-gotten gains.

Corruption: As in 2020, allegations of mismanagement of resources continued, especially in respect to the special COVID-19-pandemic fund, which some referred to as “Covidgate.” The presidency in March ordered an audit of the management of COVID-19-pandemic spending to include an audit of the Special National Solidarity Fund established in 2020 to fight against the pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences. Endowed with a budget of 180 billion CFA francs ($3.27 million), the Special Solidarity Fund was expected to be used, among other things, for the purchase of protective equipment, tests, ambulances, and medicines, and to manage the quarantine of travelers.

According to its interim report, the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court specifically targeted two ministries that played a central role in the official COVID-19-pandemic response, namely the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation. The report highlighted shortcomings including the degree of opacity in the awarding of contracts, overruns of allocated budgets, embezzlement, and blatant overbilling. According to the Audit Bench, Mediline Medical Cameroon (MMC) and Moda Holding Hong Kong (a shareholder of MMC) won 90 percent of the COVID-19 rapid tests purchased and received 95 percent of the available credit to finance purchase orders to the detriment of two other local providers with experience in the same field. Moda Holding Hong Kong billed the Ministry of Health for transportation-related expenses, but the incurred expenses were not proportional to the quantity of tests delivered. Auditors noted that a COVID-19 test purchased from MMC cost 17,500 CFA francs ($32) per unit, 10,415 CFA francs ($19) more than the price proposed by SD Biosensor. The overpayment cost the state an additional 14.5 billion CFA francs ($26.36 million).

A dozen officials reportedly appeared before the commission during the investigation. Members of the political opposition and human rights activists urged the government to publish the full report, especially since all relevant agencies were not assessed in the interim report. On April 6, the presidency sent the Ministry of Justice a copy of the report on COVID-19-pandemic spending and instructed the minister to open a “judicial inquiry” into the misappropriation of funds. On May 28, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi reported that President Biya called for judicial proceedings to take place at the Special Criminal Court. In December the full report was released; however, no criminal proceedings had taken place by year’s end.

The trial of the former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo opened at the Special Criminal Court in September 2020 after multiple adjournments. He stood accused of embezzling 236 billion CFA francs ($429 million) as part of the purchase of military equipment for the army. Mebe Ngo and his wife had been awaiting trial at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde since their arrest in 2019. As of the end of December, the court had not reached a decision.

The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases during the year. The National Gendarmerie maintained a toll-free telephone line to allow citizens to report acts of corruption in the gendarmerie.

In a September 23 anticorruption report, CONAC reported the country lost close to 18 billion CFA francs ($32.7 million) to corruption in 2020. The report on the state of the fight against corruption in 2020 showed that corruption remained prevalent in the country. The report identified the transportation sector, land tenure, and the police force as the three most corrupt sectors in the country, adding corrupt practices were rampant in the Center and Littoral Regions.

Canada

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: Following a free and fair federal election on September 20, the Liberal Party won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and secured a mandate to form a minority national government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the September federal election, 44 percent of 338 House of Commons candidates were women, up from a previous record high of 42 percent of female candidates in the 2019 election. Women won 30 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. The government of New Brunswick provided financial incentives to political parties to field female candidates in provincial elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On May 13, the federal ethics commissioner reported his findings in investigations into former federal finance minister Bill Morneau’s failure to recuse himself from the proposed award of a sole source C$900 million ($692 million) federal pandemic-relief contract in 2020 to the nonprofit WE Charity, and into the prime minister’s relations with the charity. The contract was never issued. The commissioner found Morneau had a prior personal and professional relationship with the charity’s directors and broke federal ethics law by failing to recuse himself, by allowing his staff to “disproportionately assist” WE, and by “improperly furthering” WE’s private interests. The breaches did not carry criminal or financial penalties. In a related investigation, the commissioner cleared Morneau of improperly accepting approximately C$41,000 ($32,000) in personal travel from WE Charity. Separately, the commissioner found the prime minister did not breach the act.

Central African Republic

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. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

Chad

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 11-April 9 presidential election campaign culminated in elections on April 11. The political opposition had a highly limited space to operate in both before and during the election. Amnesty International reported pretrial detentions, systematic bans on gatherings, and attempts to prevent the free exchange of information leading up to the election.

In the leadup to the election, the government disallowed the candidacies of two major opposition figures, Yaya Dillo, citing an improper birth certificate, and Succes Masra, for his not having met the required minimum candidate age of 40 and the lack of government recognition of his political party. Other candidates, citing unfair government behavior in favor of President Deby, voluntarily announced their withdrawal from the electoral process prior to the March 9 deadline for the publication of the final presidential candidate list by the Supreme Court. These voluntary withdrawals included Brice Mbaimon Guedmabye, Ngarledjy Yorongar, Mahamat Yosko, and Saleh Kebzabo. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court retained three of these candidates on the election day ballot, which some perceived as an effort to disperse the accumulation of votes behind any single opposition candidate.

Analysts viewed many of the remaining candidates as tacit supporters of Deby. Election observers reported low voter turnout and an overwhelming presence of ruling MPS party observers on election day. Election observers reported multiple irregularities, including improperly secured ballot boxes, polling sites in private spaces in violation of the law, voting authorities improperly accompanying some voters, poor staffing coverage by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), campaigning within or near polling stations, police and military giving voters instructions on voting, missing voter registration lists, duplicate voting, underage voting, and improper transport of ballot boxes.

On April 19, the CENI announced Idriss Deby won the election with 79 percent of the vote. The sitting transitional government Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke finished second with 10 percent of the vote. The CENI announced high turnout of 65 percent, although opposition figure Saleh Kebzabo took credit in media reports for his part in suppressing turnout by encouraging a boycott.

On the next day, President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield while commanding an army unit against Libya-based rebels advancing toward N’Djamena. Shortly after Deby’s death, a 15-member CMT established itself, dissolved the country’s constitution, and issued a transitional charter that outlined an 18-month mandate and transition back to a democratically elected civilian-led government.

Under the 2020 constitution, the Senate president stood to take charge of the country, with the Senate vice president standing next in line. The Senate, however, had not yet been constituted when Deby died. In this scenario, the constitution provided that the powers of the Senate should have devolved to the National Assembly. The CMT offered the presidency to the president of the National Assembly, who declined. The first vice president also declined. The CMT thus named Deby’s son, army general Mahamat Idriss Deby as CMT president and the de facto leader of the country.

On April 26, CMT President Deby appointed a civilian transitional government led by Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and a cabinet of ministers, but the transitional charter grants the CMT president the authority to dissolve the transitional government, which exists to “guide and execute the nation’s policy defined by the CMT.”

The transitional charter as of year’s end guided the country’s transition toward elections of a civilian leader in late 2022. In September, CMT President Deby appointed by presidential decree a transitional parliament, the National Transitional Council, composed of a majority loyal to the powerful MPS, to replace the National Assembly. The government began planning for a national dialogue, new constitution, and elections in 2022.

The most recent legislative elections took place in 2011, during which the ruling MPS won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. Subsequent legislative elections were repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the law in 2018 complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures. Opposition leaders attributed the changes to the government’s attempt to limit dissent. The government severely restricted opposition protests and suspended all political programming on public and private networks until the April elections (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Numerous laws disadvantage full political participation by citizens holding political views or allegiances out of alignment with the dominant MPS party. For example, opposition parties are legally barred from ownership of media outlets. The government enacted age limits on leadership of political parties, which many viewed as an effort to disqualify certain key opposition leaders. The dominant MPS party owned and enjoyed state-funded political programming on state-owned television and radio stations, which many saw as granting it an unfair political advantage in a country where television and radio comprised the most effective public outreach tools. Others criticized the MPS party as leading the unfair drawing of voter districts in ways that directly benefitted the MPS. Officials affiliated with the MPS often used official vehicles for political campaigning, and there were reports that government employees were pressured to close their offices during campaign season to support MPS campaigning. Active membership in the MPS often conferred advantages for those wishing to hold high-level government positions. In addition, the MPS-led central government faced accusations of having appointed local and traditional chiefs in a way that rewarded allegiance to the MPS rather than respecting the traditional transmission of power via birth.

After previously refusing registration on administrative grounds, on June 8, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization signed the decree granting the opposition party Les Transformateurs the permission to operate.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Political disenfranchisement in the country is typically de facto, rather than de jure.

The law mandates that leadership of all political parties must be at least 30 percent women. Women’s political participation, however, was limited by many factors, including lack of access to economic resources and cultural norms that discourage their participation in public and professional life. The law also requires a minimum of 30 percent women in government institutions and elective offices. In April, Beassemda Lydie was the first woman to run for president, placing third. Women also received appointments to the transitional parliament and the National Transitional Council, although observers noted that many were relatives of powerful men, casting doubt on their autonomy. While women comprised 33 percent of the council, there were no female members, despite several high-ranking potential women candidates in security institutions.

Government authorities often awarded political positions and formed alliances based largely on tribal and ethnic affiliations. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the CMT president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and presidential staff.

Widespread social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals resulted in all but a tiny percentage choosing to live closeted for personal safety and to enjoy fuller social and political rights. Those choosing to live openly, at great personal risk, were often denied the opportunity to register to vote, which observers noted appeared to contravene the constitution, which affirms that suffrage is universal.

Persons with disabilities, while generally able to vote, faced major hurdles in achieving full political participation. Likewise, some laws prohibited persons with disabilities from serving in elected office. Observers noted these laws appeared in contravention of the constitutional right of all persons to work. In addition, the constitution mandates “good physical and mental health” for presidential candidacy, a provision many observers believed disallowed persons with disabilities from serving as president.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in The World 2021 report, corruption, bribery, and nepotism were “endemic” in the country, and prominent journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures faced harsh reprisals for speaking out concerning corruption, including arrest, prosecution, and exile.

Corruption: Freedom House reported that selective prosecutions of high-level officials were widely viewed as efforts to discredit those posing a threat to the former president or his allies. Judicial corruption hindered effective law enforcement and rule of law. Security forces routinely stopped citizens on pretexts of minor traffic violations to extort money or confiscate goods.

While widespread, corruption was most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses or concessions, dispute settlement, regulation enforcement, customs, and taxation. While the investigation by international journalists continued in December, the October publication of the leaked “Pandora Papers” tax documents implicated Zakaria Deby Itno, a son of former president Idriss Deby and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, in having owned shares in a Seychelles-based company along with a known arms dealer.

Chile

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law 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: The country held concurrent presidential and legislative elections on November 21, which observers considered free and fair. On December 19, in free and fair elections, voters chose Gabriel Boric, who was to take office on March 11, 2022.

On May 15-16, voters elected 155 members of the constitutional convention and voted for regional governors, mayors, and municipal councilors. The country held runoff elections for governors on June 13 and official presidential primaries on July 18. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The constitutional convention began on July 4 and was scheduled to conclude by July 2022. Delegates elected Mapuche indigenous rights activist Elisa Loncon as president. On October 7, the convention approved four main statutes covering general regulations, ethics, indigenous participation and consultation, and citizen participation. Convention rules prohibit denial of crimes against humanity committed during the Pinochet regime and alleged human rights abuses during the 2019 civil unrest. Rules also established nonbinding indigenous consultations requiring the country “to recognize, specify, respect, promote, protect, and guarantee all its obligations with the different preexisting indigenous peoples and nations, all of which emanate from subscribed international obligations.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The rules for the election in May of members for the constitutional convention stipulated gender parity and, from a total of 155 seats, included 17 seats reserved for representatives of indigenous groups. The Mapuche minority group, which represents approximately 13 percent of the population, has historically been underrepresented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On July 26, the former mayor of the San Ramon municipality, Miguel Angel Aguilera, was accused of repeated bribery, illicit enrichment, and money laundering and was placed in pretrial detention. The case was under investigation at year’s end.

Prosecutors brought charges against former army officials accused of corruption. In an August 6 pretrial hearing, prosecutors requested a 15-year sentence for former army commander in chief Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba for embezzlement of public funds and money laundering. The National Prosecutor’s Office also filed a motion seeking a 10-year sentence for Fuente-Alba’s wife for her role in concealing the use of public funds. A trial date was set for March 2022.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consists of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP. All important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

Election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels, legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their own ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant. Many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

Colombia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative and presidential elections were held in March and May 2018, respectively. Because no presidential candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the election, as required for a victory in the first round, in June a second election was held, in which voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president. Observers considered the elections free and fair and the most peaceful in decades. There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 2018 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Democratic Center party, Ivan Duque Marquez, defeated the candidate of Humane Colombia, Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego. The then minister of defense, Luis Carlos Villegas Echeverri, described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed more than 3,500 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States. The first local and regional elections since the signing of the 2016 peace accord took place in October 2019 and were largely peaceful and the most inclusive in the country’s history. Observers reported some indications of electoral fraud, including vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs, FARC dissidents, and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of June 30, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 255 mayors, 16 governors, and 435 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the FARC registered a political party in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, maintaining the same acronym. The accord guaranteed the FARC political party, now known as the Commons party, 10 seats in Congress – five each in the Senate and in the House of Representatives – in the 2018 and 2022 elections.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, particularly at the local level. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office registered 8,414 allegations related to corruption and 51 active investigations. In August press reports alleged government contractors embezzled a $17 million advance from the Ministry of Technology and Communications in connection with a project to connect rural schools to the internet. The contractors allegedly failed to comply with the commitments in the contract, and the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation.

Comoros

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. Citizens exercised that ability, although electoral irregularities marred the 2019 presidential election.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the country held presidential and gubernatorial elections, and the Supreme Court declared Azali Assoumani the winner of the presidential election with 59 percent of the vote. These elections were not free and fair, and international and domestic observers noted the election was marked by significant irregularities.

During the afternoon of election day, the opposition protested ballot stuffing and the lack of observers in polling stations. Refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the vote, the opposition destroyed ballot boxes on Anjouan and, to a lesser extent, on Grande Comore. Responding to these developments, the government failed to uphold election rules and regulations in the collection and counting of ballots. The government ordered security forces to collect ballots in multiple jurisdictions before polls were scheduled to close, and ballot counting occurred without public oversight.

In 2019 presidential candidate Soilihi Mohamed, along with the other opposition candidates, established a National Transition Council and called on the population to engage in civil disobedience if the government did not invalidate the election. Police arrested Mohamed for undermining the security of the state. Following a gunfight in which three individuals died, Mohamed’s supporters freed him, but security forces subsequently recaptured him. After 12 days in prison, the government released him, and Mohamed recognized Azali as president and resigned his position as president of the National Transition Council.

In January 2020 election authorities conducted legislative elections. International observers considered them to be generally free and fair. The opposition boycotted the elections and stated they did not recognize either the 2019 presidential or the January 2020 legislative results. The government did not allow opposition groups to hold meetings during the legislative elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons or members of minority groups in the political process and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. The 2019 gubernatorial election resulted in the election of the first female governor, Sitti Farouata Mhoudine, who represented Grande Comore. In the National Assembly, there were four women out of 24 elected members, compared with one woman among elected members in the previous National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

The National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption was an independent administrative authority established to combat corruption, including through education and mobilization of the public. In 2016 the president repealed the provisions of the law that created the commission, citing its failure to produce any results. The Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated this decision, noting that a presidential decree may not overturn a law. Nevertheless, the president has neither renewed the commissioners’ mandates nor appointed replacement members.

Corruption: Resident diplomatic, United Nations, and humanitarian agency personnel reported petty corruption was commonplace at all levels of the civil service and security forces. Businesspersons reported corruption and a lack of transparency. Citizens paid bribes to evade customs regulations, to avoid arrest, and to obtain falsified police reports.

In 2019 the court in Moroni heard embezzlement charges against former finance minister Mohamed Bacar Dossar, former vice president in charge of finance Mohamed Ali Soilihi, and former president Sambi. Sambi remained under arrest, while the others were told they could not leave the country until after the trial. As of October the court proceedings continued.

Costa Rica

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 2018 voters elected Citizen’s Action Party’s (PAC) Carlos Alvarado president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In 2018 legislative elections, the National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the most seats, but it did not achieve a majority in the National Assembly. In internal legislative elections in May, the PLN won the presidency of the National Assembly for one year in an alliance that included the Social Christian Unity Party and evangelical Christian parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and persons of African descent were represented in government, but persons with disabilities and indigenous persons were not. In national elections political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirm that gender parity extends vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On June 14, judicial authorities searched the Presidency, the Ministry of Public Transportation, and the National Road Commission, among other sites, as part of an investigation in a high-profile corruption case related to several highway construction projects. The owners of two of the construction companies were initially detained and released on bail but later were arrested as a preventive measure. A presidential advisor and the head of the road commission, both of whom were under investigation, resigned. The National Assembly appointed an ad hoc committee to investigate the case.

During the year the Attorney General’s Office indicted cement businessman Juan Carlos Bolanos and former legislator Victor Morales-Zapata for influence peddling and bribery in two cases related to the 2017 high-profile corruption scandal known locally as the “Cementazo.”

Cote d’Ivoire

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 adult suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 6, the country held elections for the 255 seats in the National Assembly, the more powerful of the parliament’s two legislative bodies. All major political parties and some independents participated in the elections; two major opposition parties ran in a coalition. The elections resulted in a 54/46 percent split between the ruling coalition and the opposition, with the ruling party winning 137 of the 255 seats.

The period before the elections was marked by generally peaceful campaigning with both ruling party and opposition leaders enthusiastically calling on their supporters to vote. Civil society organizations and media noted sporadic minor incidents during the campaign, including vandalism of candidate campaign posters and the alleged assault of an opposition candidate by ruling party supporters.

Election day itself also unfolded in a generally peaceful manner but with minor election-related irregularities, including sporadic incidents of voter material destruction, acts of violence and intimidation against voting officials or voters, biometric tablet failures, voting officials’ refusing to admit accredited observers to polling sites, and confrontations between supporters of opposing candidates. After the vote ended, several opposition leaders suggested the possibility of fraud, but they ultimately followed the legal process for challenging contested election results. On March 9, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced provisional results, which the Constitutional Council validated on March 25 in all but four races. In the four races (whose results could not have altered the balance of power), the Constitutional Council annulled the results and ordered a revote.

International and local observers considered the elections generally free, fair, and transparent. In a preliminary statement issued two days after the elections, the International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center deemed the elections “an inclusive election in a generally peaceful atmosphere.” Indigo, a local NGO that deployed 500 observers across the country, described the elections as “peaceful” despite minor incidents.

The country held a presidential election in October 2020. In contrast to the March legislative elections, the period before the presidential election was marked by intense political maneuvering by the regime and opposition, acrimonious and divisive rhetoric, protests, and largely civilian-on-civilian violence.

The opposition vociferously contested President Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term following the July 2020 death of the ruling coalition’s candidate. Although the opposition argued that President Ouattara was precluded from running due to a term limit, the Constitutional Council, which the constitution empowers to validate presidential candidacies, validated Ouattara’s candidacy in September 2020 on the grounds that it would be his first term under the 2016 Constitution. The Council also validated the candidacies of three prominent opposition figures but rejected those of 40 other contenders, specifying in each case which eligibility criteria the contender failed to meet. Before and after the election, opposition leaders repeatedly alleged the Council was inherently biased toward the ruling coalition. UN, ECOWAS, and African Union officials visited the country several times during the electoral period to encourage a tension-calming dialogue between the government and the opposition but did not recommend a revision of the Council’s decision on candidacies.

Among those barred from competition were prominent opposition figures Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo, both rejected due to domestic criminal convictions. Following the Constitutional Council’s announcement, the ACHPR issued two separate rulings in September 2020 ordering the government to permit Soro and Gbagbo to run for election. The government did not respond directly to either ruling but indicated in public statements that it did not consider the ACHPR’s rulings binding in view of its April 2020 announcement that it was withdrawing from the optional protocol that allowed nonstate actors to petition the court.

Election-related protests and violence escalated immediately before the election, particularly in mid-October 2020 after the opposition launched a campaign of “civil disobedience” and an “active boycott” designed to prevent the election from occurring unless the government conceded to opposition demands. In addition to violent clashes between civilians, many criminal acts occurred during the campaign. Media reported multiple incidents of vandalism, including the burning of CEI field offices, theft and destruction of voter cards, and construction of crude roadblocks by opposition-aligned youth to obstruct major roads.

Scattered, disruptive, and occasionally deadly unrest continued on election day in several locations in the central and southern parts of the country. Reported incidents included theft and destruction of electoral materials, civilian-on-civilian clashes, ransacked polling stations, and roadblocks around polling stations, which suppressed voter participation. The CEI confirmed that 21 percent of polling stations were not operational on election day, October 31, due to disruptions. International election observers reported the same but also noted that, in some cases, polling sites did not open because election officials failed to deploy necessary voter equipment and materials. At polling sites that did open, voting generally took place without incident although observers noted scattered minor irregularities, such as sites opening late or closing early and election officials struggling, without apparent malicious intent, to tabulate results accurately. The government reported that between August and November 2020, 85 persons had been killed and 484 injured, including several members of the security forces, in election-related violence.

International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. The African Union stated the election “was held in an overall satisfactory manner.” The International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center found that officials “generally adhered to voting procedures in the majority of the polling stations visited,” but criticized the political climate in which the election took place as “not allowing for a genuinely competitive election.” The Constitutional Council certified that President Ouattara had won re-election with 94.27 percent of the vote, a percentage due in part to the opposition’s boycott, and President Ouattara was sworn in for a third term in December 2020.

Earlier in November the opposition asserted that President Ouattara was no longer president and announced the establishment of a National Transitional Council. Via social media from France, Guillaume Soro claimed in his capacity as a member of the transitional council that President Ouattara no longer had the constitutional power to command the armed forces and called for them to overthrow him. The government subsequently announced charges of sedition and terrorism against 20 senior opposition figures involved in the Council’s professed creation. In mid-November 2020, the government issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three of his aides, requesting their extradition from France.

Although the law requires the national voter registry to be updated annually, it was last revised in June and July 2020. During the 2020 registration, CEI staff generally appeared well prepared to execute that process, although some opposition parties reported their members’ difficulty obtaining documents required to prove their eligibility to vote. The government extended the registration period twice and, midway through the registration process, extended the validity of existing national identity cards so that holders could register and vote in the presidential election without having to obtain new biometric identity cards.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, there have historically been links between ethnic groups and specific political parties.

Some opposition parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits.

Opposition parties frequently criticized the legality and impartiality of the CEI. In September 2020 the Ivorian Popular Front, the only party previously represented in the CEI that the broader opposition accepted as an authentic opposition party, suspended its participation due to its overall objection to the electoral process. In December 2020 the government led a round of political dialogue that led the opposition to reverse its stance and decide to compete in the legislative elections. Accordingly, in January the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, the country’s largest unified opposition party, officially took the seat that had been reserved for it on the CEI, which it had previously refused to do without reforms at the CEI.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of 255 National Assembly members, 32 were women after the March elections, up from 29 previously. Of 99 Senate members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara in 2019 and eight of 66 elected in 2018. The law requires women constitute at least 30 percent of each political party’s candidates nationwide for legislative elections, however, there are no penalties if the quota is not met. In the March national legislative elections, female candidates accounted for an average of 15 percent of candidate slates.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Election observers reported assistance to voters with disabilities (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported official corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and security forces, but they noted victims of such corruption often did not report it or assist in investigations because they believed the government would not act or they feared retaliation. Civil society groups and government officials reported the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), the government’s anticorruption authority, was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action. The HABG can investigate alleged corruption but lacks the mandate to prosecute; it must refer cases to the public prosecutor. In July the government created a special unit within the Abidjan public prosecutor’s office dedicated to investigating complex economic and financial crimes, including those involving government officials.

Corruption: As of August, the government reported it had initiated three proceedings against magistrates for suspected influence peddling and abuse of power.

In June authorities arrested the director general of the Land Management Agency for alleged embezzlement and money laundering. In July the government announced it had launched audits of approximately 40 state-owned enterprises and suspended at least seven officials of state-owned enterprises pending the outcome of audits. Also in July the HABG announced that 473 persons were either under investigation, indicted, or sentenced for corrupt acts, such as money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. Human rights organizations reported government authorities awarded many contracts to persons or businesses without following procurement rules and often with little notice. In August 2020 the government’s public procurement regulatory authority launched an audit program to investigate more than 200 sole-source public procurements that occurred between 2014 and 2017. Although the regulatory authority completed the audits it did not release them.

Crimea

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014. Nonetheless, Russian occupation authorities conducted voting in Crimea for the September 19 Russia State Duma elections. Occupation authorities claimed a voter turnout rate of 49.75 percent. Independent observers and elections experts alleged massive electoral fraud, including coerced voting by state employees and ballot stuffing, among other irregularities. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Russia’s elections in Crimea as illegal and stated it would hold responsible those who organized and conducted the illegal voting there.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on April 6, occupation authorities detained the head of the investigation department of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” in Simferopol on suspicion of accepting a bribe of 7.5 million rubles ($103,000). He allegedly agreed to accept the bribe in exchange for ending an investigation of a suspect in a criminal case.

Croatia

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: Parliamentary elections were held in July 2020, presidential elections in January 2020, and European Parliament elections in 2019. According to observers, all elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, members of minority groups, persons with disabilities, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in the political processes, and they did participate. By law minority groups are guaranteed eight seats in the 151-seat parliament. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. This quota was not respected on 315 local election lists out of a total of 2,462 (13 percent), a slight decrease from the last local elections in 2017 when 14 percent of lists were in violation. One candidate list had less than 40 percent male representation. The percentage of women elected to parliament in 2020 was 23 percent (35 of a total of 151 parliamentarians), the highest percentage since parliament’s constitution in 1990. Four ministers in the 16-member cabinet were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Corruption remained a problem, and there were significant reports of government corruption during the year. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several new major corruption cases involving judges, local city officials, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were sometimes overturned on appeal.

Corruption: The ombudsperson’s report for 2020 reported citizens still believed there were not enough final court verdicts to demonstrate successful suppression of corruption. On October 29, parliament adopted a new 2021-30 anticorruption strategy.

Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending. The Supreme Court largely upheld convictions in two high-profile and longstanding corruption cases involving former prime minister Ivo Sanader, one in which the ruling Croatian Democratic Union political party was also convicted as a legal entity and ordered to return approximately 14.1 million kuna ($2.31 million), plus a fine of 3.3 million kuna ($541,200).

In another case, on June 9, media reported three judges from Osijek County Court were arrested on corruption charges. All three were allegedly involved with convicted former Dinamo soccer club manager Zdravko Mamic, who publicly accused several judges of corruption following his own conviction for corruption in March. The investigation continued, and no indictments against the judges were filed.

Media reported separate high-profile investigations linked to former mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic, who died in February. One investigation alleged that then HRT director general Kazimir Bacic, acting on behalf of businessman Milan Loncaric, was a middleman passing a bribe of 50,000 euros ($57,500) to Bandic for the Gardens of Light cultural project. As a reward for his role, Bacic was believed to have been given an apartment worth 133,000 euros ($153,000) by Loncaric. Parliament’s Media Committee unanimously decided in July to relieve Bacic of his duties after he was arrested on the corruption charges.

Cuba

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the PCC, disallowing political expression outside of that structure. The government suppressed attempts to form other parties. Candidates for office must be nominated by a PCC “mass organization” and approved by local party officials. These PCC-approved candidates win the vast majority of votes, since electors are limited to PCC representatives. Elections are neither free nor fair. Citizens do not have the ability to form political parties or run as candidates from political parties other than the PCC. The government forcefully and consistently retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change. The government orchestrated mass political mobilization on its behalf and favored citizens who actively participated.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government selected candidates for the October 2019 election for president of the republic, president of the National Assembly, and membership in the Council of State. Only members of the National Assembly – all of whom were PCC members – were allowed to vote, and candidates ran for office uncontested. For the first time since 1959, on January 18, citizens “elected” provincial governors; however, only one candidate (chosen in theory by the president but in reality by the PCC) stood for each post, and the only persons allowed to vote were loyal party members chosen as delegates of the municipal assemblies in each province. The chosen candidates were not known to the public before the election, and each one received 93 percent or more of the ballots cast, with most receiving 99 percent of the votes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As in previous national elections, government-run commissions nominated all candidates for office for the January election. No non-PCC candidates were allowed on the ballot. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents. Numerous opposition candidates were physically prevented from presenting their candidacies or were otherwise intimidated from participating in the electoral process.

The 2019 constitution includes many sections that restrict citizens’ ability to participate fully in political processes by deeming the PCC as the state’s only legal political party and the “superior driving force of the society and the state.” For example, Article 4 states, “Citizens have the right to combat through any means, including armed combat when other means are not available, anyone who intends to overthrow the political, social, and economic order established by this constitution.” The article effectively empowers ordinary persons to violently attack those who publicly disagree with the party.

Citizens who live abroad without a registered place of abode in Cuba lose their right to vote.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women and minority representatives in the Central Committee and Politburo declined re-election in the Eighth Party Congress. Women held no senior leadership positions in the military or security services.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption, supported by a poorly regulated and opaque banking sector. The government was highly sensitive to corruption allegations and often conducted anticorruption crackdowns.

Corruption: There were numerous reports of police and other official corruption in enforcement of economic restrictions and provision of government services. For example, employees frequently stole products from government stocks and sold them on the black market. Corruption by customs officers was also reportedly common. The government and state-controlled businesses engaged in international money laundering to evade sanctions.

Cyprus

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and constitution 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. In national elections, Turkish Cypriots who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were ineligible to vote and run for office in the government-controlled area, although Greek Cypriots living in the north faced no such restrictions. In elections for the European Parliament, Cypriot citizens, resident EU citizens, and Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and run for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On May 30 the country held free and fair elections for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives. The 24 seats assigned to Turkish Cypriots remained vacant. In 2018 voters re-elected President Nicos Anastasiades in free and fair elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, women remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Only 27 percent of ministers and 14.3 percent of the members of the House of Representatives were women.

In 2019 more than 5,600 Turkish Cypriots voted in the European Parliament elections at 50 polling stations near buffer-zone crossing points, compared with 1,869 who voted in 2014. Voters elected a Turkish Cypriot to one of the country’s six seats in the European Parliament for the first time. According to press reports, between 1,100 and 1,500 Turkish Cypriots were unable to vote because their names did not appear on the electoral list. The law provides for the registration of adult Turkish Cypriot holders of a Republic of Cyprus identity card who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots in the electoral roll for the European Parliament elections. Turkish Cypriots not residing in that area needed to apply for registration in the electoral roll, as did all other citizens residing there. The government did not automatically register an unspecified number of Turkish Cypriots residing in the north because they were incorrectly listed in the official civil registry as residents of the government-controlled area. This problem persisted but to a lesser extent than previous years, as the number of registered Turkish Cypriot voters increased from approximately 56,000 in 2014 to 81,000 in 2019. Media outlets attributed much of the increase to the successful campaign of the first Turkish Cypriot elected to the European Parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In October 2020 al-Jazeera broadcast an expose, The Cyprus Papers – Undercover, in which undercover reporters captured extensive evidence of government corruption related to the Citizenship by Investment program (CBI). In the video, the president of the House of Representatives, Demetris Syllouris, House of Representatives member Christakis Giovani, and CBI facilitators indicated their willingness to assist a fictitious Chinese CBI applicant whom they were told had been convicted of money laundering and corruption. After the broadcast, the government announced it was terminating the CBI program, effective November 2020, and Attorney General George Savvides ordered an investigation into any possible criminal offenses arising from the al-Jazeera report. Syllouris and Giovani later resigned from the House of Representatives. In December 2020 the government released a heavily redacted report prepared by the three-member “Kalogirou Committee,” appointed by the attorney general to probe the CBI program. The committee found serious shortcomings that enabled individuals with criminal backgrounds to acquire citizenship and bypass anti-money-laundering safeguards. In May the attorney general filed the first criminal case against five companies and four individuals based on the committee’s findings.

On August 11, the attorney general instructed police to open a new investigation following an August 10 al-Jazeera expose showing British “fixers,” who claimed use of Cypriot passports acquired through the CBI program aided international laundering of money through British soccer clubs. An investigation continued at year’s end.

Czech Republic

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: Voter elected representatives to the Chamber of Deputies on October 8 and 9. In 2018 voters re-elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s second direct presidential election. Elections for one-third of the seats in the Senate were held in two rounds in October 2020. Observers considered all elections free and fair, and there were no reports of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws or practices limit the participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate. Participation by women and minority groups in elected bodies remained low in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. Four out of 15 government ministries were headed by women. For the first time, more than 30 percent of candidates running in the parliamentary elections were women. As a result of the October elections, 51 of the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies were women, representing an increase from 23 percent in the previous session to 25 percent.

Romani participation in politics and governance remained minimal in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court judges. There were some Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. Roma were elected to 13 seats (out of 62,000) in local governments in the 2018 elections. Roma received one seat (out of 675) in regional government elections in 2020

There were only six Romani candidates and one Czech-Vietnamese candidate in the October parliamentary elections out of total of 5,260 candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. Several high-level political figures were under investigation in various regions for manipulating public contracts and abuse of official power.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies and at various levels of bureaucracy, and the most common forms of corruption included: leaking information for payments; the unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; acceptance of bribes in connection with criminal proceedings and other procedures (e.g., issuance of permits) and unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures.

Observers criticized the tenuous position of principal prosecutors whom, under existing legislation, the government could remove from office without cause. Observers also criticized the continued lack of legal protections for whistleblowers and regulations on lobbying.

The government took some steps to implement its fifth Open Government Partnership action plan which contains commitments to anonymize online publication of lower court decisions, implement whistleblower protections, provide open data to enable public monitoring of the quality of education, increase civil society participation in government processes, and increase online transparency on the use of public funds. Implementation of the plan was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the parliamentary elections.

In February parliament approved legislation requiring transparency regarding the real (or “beneficial”) ownership of companies. The law bars anonymously owned companies from applying for public subsidies or tenders, although in its final version it does not authorize officials to challenge discrepancies or irregularities in a company’s ownership structure, absent a court finding.

Corruption: In May, the European Commission issued a final report on an audit of EU agricultural subsidies received by Prime Minister Babis’ Agrofert, which – like a 2020 final audit report of EU structural subsidies – concluded that Babis is in conflict of interest due to his concurrent ownership of Agrofert and position as the prime minister, despite the 2017 placement of Agrofert assets into trust funds. Prime Minister Babis and the government disagreed with the findings of both audit reports on the grounds that Babis complied with national law and took no action. In August the European Commission again requested steps to address the conflict of interest outlined in the reports and warned it would stop future EU subsidy payments if no action was taken.

In a separate case, a prosecutor was still reviewing allegations that Prime Minister Babis had improperly received investment subsidies from the EU for a development project, following a recommendation by police in September to file criminal charges against Babis and a former associate. Babis allegedly temporarily transferred the Stork’s Nest conference complex from his Agrofert conglomerate to family members to qualify for EU subsidies in 2007. The criminal proceeding in the case was initiated in 2016, dismissed by the prosecutor in 2019, and reopened later that year by the country’s top prosecutor.

In November the municipal court found former Deputy Education Minister Simona Kratochvilova and former head of the Czech Soccer Association Miroslav Pelta guilty in a case involving manipulation of sports subsidies in 2017. Together, they caused damage estimated at up to 175.8 million crowns ($7.9 million). Kratochvilova was sentenced to six and one-half years in prison and a fine of two million crowns ($90,000). Pelta was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of five million crowns ($220,000). The judgment was subject to appeal.

A trial against a large group of public officials and companies from the Brno area accused of corruption and manipulating public contracts amounting to 47 million crowns (two million dollars) took place in September 2020. The prosecutor recommended 14 years’ imprisonment for the highest-ranking regional politician implicated in the case. The court was scheduled to announce its decision in December.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018 and drew criticism grounded in procedural transparency concerns. CENI cancelled elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu Province, reportedly due to health concerns generated by the Ebola crisis, and in Yumbi in Mai Ndombe Province due to insecurity. Although CENI organized legislative and provincial contests in those areas in March 2019, more than one million voters were disenfranchised from the 2018 presidential contest.

In January 2019 CENI announced opposition candidate Tshisekedi won the presidential election, and in accordance with electoral law, the Constitutional Court confirmed CENI’s results later that month. The Council of Bishops criticized the outcome, noting “the results of the presidential election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission.”

Many international actors expressed concern regarding CENI’s decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources indicating opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. In January 2019 Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, marking the first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress political party won 32 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the Common Front for Congo coalition won 335 seats of 500 seats total. Senatorial elections were held in March 2019 through an indirect vote by provincial assemblies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement. The SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events.

State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest sources of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of political opponents, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.) and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

In several districts, known as chefferies, traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although some ethnic groups in the East claimed discrimination. Women held only 12 percent of the seats in parliament. The new government formed in April included several women as ministers or deputies, such as the minister of state of portfolio, the minister of relations with parliament, and the minister of mines. Approximately 27 percent of the 57 vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, vice ministers, and minister delegates were women, an increase in the total number from the previous government. Of 108 senators, 23 were women. Changes to the electoral law in 2017 included the introduction of a minimum “threshold of representation,” but it disadvantaged women, partly because it favored the major parties, in which women faced challenges gaining prominent positions.

Women faced obstacles to full participation in politics and leadership positions generally. Women in leadership positions were often given portfolios focused on so-called women’s issues, such as those related to gender-based violence, cultural norms, and discrimination against women. Women generally had less access to financial resources needed to participate in politics. Furthermore, insecurity, particularly in the eastern provinces, presented a major obstacle for women who wished to run for office and campaign, because the risk of rape and other sexual violence forced them to limit activities and public exposure.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, Kasai-Oriental, and Haut-Katanga Provinces, and such discrimination contributed to the lack of indigenous group political participation (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Local NGOs blamed these levels of corruption, in part, to the lack of a law providing for access to public information.

In 2020 President Tshisekedi created the Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (APLC). A special service under the Office of the President, the APLC is responsible for coordinating all government entities charged with fighting corruption and money laundering, conducting investigations with the full authority of judicial police, and overseeing transfer of public corruption cases to appropriate judicial authorities. The Platform for the Protection for Whistleblowers in Africa asserted that APLC’s record was mixed, without visible results.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In January RFI reported the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) alleged that three billion Congolese francs ($1.5 million) was embezzled every month at the Ministry for Primary and Secondary Education through a scheme diverting public funds to pay thousands of fictitious teachers. RFI also noted that the director of the agency supervising the teachers’ pay process and the inspector general of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary, and Vocational Education were arrested, following the issuance of a report by the IGF. In March Radio Okapi reported that the Appellate Court of Kinshasa-Gombe sentenced the inspector general for primary, secondary, and vocational education, Michel Djamba, and the head of the Teachers’ Payroll and Control Service, Delphin Kampayi, to 20 years of hard labor for embezzling public funds.

In June independent outlet Actualite.cd quoted a public finance expert as saying that there was not adequate accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s public spending, which potentially encourages embezzlement. A former minister of the economy said in local press that the country’s budgetary accounting system was weakened by “numerous notable deficiencies.” The head of the IGF, Jules Alingete, was quoted by independent radio station Top Congo FM as saying that at least 70 percent of public funds were routinely misappropriated. Alingete added that only one-third of the 146 billion Congolese francs ($73 million) invested in road construction work in Kinshasa was actually used to support the construction effort. Alingete also alleged that over-invoicing that occurred during the development of the Bukangalonzo agro-industrial park cost the government 400 billion Congolese francs ($200 million).

In June local media reported that a group of researchers working for the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) submitted a memorandum to President Tshisekedi alleging the embezzlement of OVG’s staff salaries since 2013, the misappropriation of funds disbursed by the government, and the “recruitment” of a plethora of fictitious employees. According to the representatives of the observatory’s staff, the government misappropriated international donations worth more than six million euros (seven million dollars).

In August local press reported that the IGF took legal action against the governor of Kongo Central Atou Matubuana for misappropriating more than six billion Congolese francs (three million dollars) earmarked to finance several “special intervention funds.” The IGF also accused Matubuana and some of his aides of embezzling more than 10 billion Congolese francs (five million dollars) earmarked for civilian and military services.

On August 27, authorities arrested and jailed former minister of health Eteni Longondo for the misappropriation of funds intended to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The IGF reported the minister failed to account for more than two billion Congolese francs (one million dollars) allocated by the World Bank.

In November Reuters reported that the Constitutional Court dismissed the case of former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, stating that its jurisdiction only covered sitting, not former, prime ministers. According to Jeune Afrique, Ponyo was suspected of involvement in an embezzlement scheme concerning a 570 billion Congolese francs ($285 million) agrifood project, and the IGF concluded more than 90 percent of that amount was embezzled. The Sentry, an investigative and policy team that tracks war criminals’ money in Africa, published a report alleging that a brother of former president Joseph Kabila benefitted from embezzled Congolese money, using it to buy expensive properties abroad.

The law prohibits the FARDC from engaging in mineral trade, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal involvement by some FARDC units and IAGs included protection rackets, extortion, and theft. The illegal trade in minerals was both a symptom and a cause of weak governance. It illegally financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF and sometimes generated revenue for traditional authorities and local and provincial governments. A 2019 report from the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research group, determined that in the trading hub of Itebero, North Kivu Province, traders paid $10 per ton of coltan to the president of the local trading association, who distributed this money to the FARDC, ANR, and Directorate General for Migration. Individual FARDC commanders also sometimes appointed civilians to manage their interests at mining sites covertly.

Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal, illicit, and strongly linked to both armed groups and certain elements of the FARDC. Government officials were often complicit in the smuggling of artisanal mining products, particularly gold, into Uganda and Rwanda. A 2020 UN Group of Experts report highlighted Ituri Province as a major source of smuggled gold found in Uganda. The UN Group of Experts also reported that FARDC soldiers regularly accepted bribes from artisanal miners to access the Namoya site, which was owned by the Banro Mining Corporation. Mining experts and law enforcement officers interviewed in the report described natural resource-related crimes as “quick cash” and explained that violators often bribed law enforcement agencies to secure safe transit of illegal goods.

Between 2017 and 2020, IPIS visited 920 artisanal mine sites in the East and observed illegal interference (by either the FARDC or an IAG) at 363 sites. At 251 sites, IPIS reported FARDC interference, mostly by illegal taxation, but also by creating a trade monopoly over both mineral and nonmineral products. IPIS research noted that for armed interference, FARDC units were the main culprits at 66 percent of the affected mining sites (198 out of 265) in the 2016-18 sample, while 46 percent of the mines with armed interference were controlled or frequented by different armed groups, especially Raia Mutomboki, NDC-R, Mai Mai Yakutumba, and Mai Simba.

In conflict areas both IAGs and elements of the SSF regularly set up roadblocks and ran illegal taxation schemes. In 2019 IPIS published data showing state agents regularly sold tags meant to validate clean mineral supply chains. The validation tags, a mechanism designed to reduce corruption, labor abuses, trafficking in persons, and environmental destruction, were regularly sold to smugglers.

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s enacted budget included off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully published. These accounts shielded receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Eight parastatal organizations held special accounts and used them to circumvent the government’s tax collection authorities. “Special accounts” are, in theory, subjected to the same auditing procedures and oversight as other expenditures; however, due in large part to resource constraints, the Supreme Audit Authority did not always publish its internal audits, or in many cases published them significantly late. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) standard of 2016, the government is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. In 2019 the EITI board noted the country had made meaningful progress in its implementation of the 2016 standard but also expressed concern regarding persistent corruption and mismanagement of funds in the extractive sector. During the year the EITI published Gecamines’ contracts with third parties but did not fully publish contract annexes containing contract values and mining royalties’ allocations.

Denmark

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws provide citizens, including residents of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the ability to choose their governments in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Free and fair parliamentary elections in 2019 led to the formation of a single-party minority government headed by Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen.

Free and fair parliamentary elections in Greenland in April led to the formation of a two-party majority government headed by left-green party Inuit Ataqatigiit and pro-independence party Naleraq.

The Faroe Islands also held free and fair municipal elections in November 2020.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Transparency International Greenland’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2020, released in March, found that 57 percent of respondents felt corruption was a “big problem.” The survey was conducted in October-November 2020, shortly after a conflict-of-interest case emerged involving the then premier of Greenland Kim Kielsen. In May 2020 Kielsen’s government raised the fishing quotas for rockfish while the then premier lent out his private boat for commercial fishing of rockfish. Kielsen confirmed that he earned 27,000 kroner (DKK) ($4,200) by renting out his boat that was not rated for commercial use. In September 2020 the government’s audit committee offered a “sharp reprimand” of the “criticizable” actions, but it did not find Kielsen had violated any laws.

Djibouti

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. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 9, President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term in the first round of voting with 97.3 percent of the vote. Independent candidate Zakaria Ismail Farah received the remaining 2.7 percent of the vote. Farah claimed that unequal treatment and lack of provision of security hampered his campaign. Opposition political groups boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities stuffed ballot boxes. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International election observers from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared the elections free and fair, noted the peaceful conduct of the elections, and commented that polling stations were organized satisfactorily. Limited space for credible political opposition called into question the fairness of the election but the outcome was not disputed. Observers recommended that additional measures be taken to educate the public and electoral commission members on their respective rights and responsibilities, as well as to encourage civil society participation and increase the secrecy of the ballot.

International observers from the AU, IGAD, Arab League, and OIC characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair.” The mission from the AU, however, noted several worrisome observations, including lower voter registration due to restrictive laws, inadequate implementation of biometric identification processes during the elections, voter intimidation, inadequate security of submitted ballots, premature closures of voting centers, and the lack of opposition observers during ballot counting.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize opposition political parties Movement for Democracy and Liberty (MoDeL) and RADDE, although they continued to operate. Members of those political parties and other opposition members were routinely arrested and detained (see section 1.d.). Senior government officials alleged MoDeL was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood organization. While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority or other disadvantaged groups in the political process. While women did participate, they did not account for 25 percent of political candidates and election administration officials as required by law (see section 7.d.).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption.

Dominica

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 the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labour Party prevailed over the opposition United Workers Party by a margin of 18 seats to three. The Caribbean Community, Organization of American States, and UN election observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and transparent.

In February more than 35 organizations were invited to make written submissions as part of an electoral reform process promised by the government. From April 26 to June 9, the public was invited to participate in a nationwide electoral reform survey, and in June the Dominica Business Forum provided recommendations from the private sector and civil society on electoral reform in the country. The opposition political party was consulted during the process. By year’s end a final report with electoral reform recommendations remained pending.

On March 9, the Caribbean Court of Justice dismissed an appeal filed by the government on behalf of ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) candidates who were successful in the 2014 elections and reinstated complaints filed against them for the charge of treating (providing free food and beverages) and bribery. In May, 12 elected DLP members pleaded not guilty to providing free concerts in the period preceding the 2014 election. On July 9, a magistrate dismissed the case after the director of public prosecution notified the court of her decision to discontinue the matter.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government implemented the law inconsistently. According to civil society representatives and members of the political opposition, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: In April the deputy labor commissioner was charged with nine fraud-related charges over accusations that he forged work permits and documentation for Haitian nationals in the country. The case had not gone to trial by year’s end.

Opposition leadership in the House of Assembly and some opposition-aligned local media raised allegations of corruption within the government, including in the Citizenship by Investment program.

Dominican Republic

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 nearly universal, direct, and equal suffrage. Active-duty police and military personnel are prohibited from voting or participating in partisan political activities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were scheduled for February 2020. On the day of the election, however, the JCE suspended the election due to the failure of the electronic voting system. According to subsequent reports by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations, the failure was due to the JCE’s poor management of the electronic system, including the failure to audit and gradually implement it. The OAS report led to the dismissal of the JCE’s national computing director. In March 2020 voters participated in rescheduled municipal elections. International and domestic observers described the rescheduled elections as largely free and fair.

Presidential and congressional elections were originally scheduled for May 15, 2020, but the JCE postponed these elections to July 5, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic national state of emergency. In the July 2020 election, Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected as president for a four-year term. This was the first time since 2000 that a member of the opposition party won a presidential election. The JCE did not announce final, official results for the presidential election until two days after the election. Results for the congressional races were announced 12 days after the election. Some congressional and municipal races remained contested for weeks, leading to sporadic protests and violence, mainly in the National District, regarding seats in the lower chamber of congress. Overall, however, civil society and international observers praised the citizens and electoral authorities for a voting process that was orderly and largely peaceful, despite COVID-19 challenges.

During both the municipal and presidential elections, the OAS and domestic observers noted widespread illegal political campaigning immediately outside of voting stations, indications of vote buying, lack of financial transparency by political parties and candidates, and illegal use of public funds during the campaign. Most electoral crimes were not prosecuted.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A 2018 law regulates political parties and formalizes party primaries, party financing, and the establishment of new political parties. The electoral institutions and courts interpreted and implemented the 2018 law during the 2019-20 national electoral cycle, and the Constitutional Court struck down several parts. Civil society representatives commented that the law aided the organization of the 2020 electoral process. Principal political actors, however, largely ignored important sections of the law, particularly those related to campaign financing.

By law major parties, defined as those that received 5 percent of the vote or more in the previous election, receive 80 percent of public campaign finances, while minor parties share the remaining 20 percent. The OAS, domestic NGOs, and minor parties criticized this allocation of funding as unequal and unfair. Civil society groups criticized the government and the then ruling Dominican Liberation Party for using public funds to pay for advertising shortly before the elections despite the legal prohibition on the use of public funds for campaigns. According to civil society groups, revenue from government advertising influenced media owners to censor voices that disagreed with the Dominican Liberation Party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law stipulates that at least 40 percent, and no more than 60 percent, of a political party’s nominees should be of a particular gender, but in practice women were underrepresented. Despite the gender balance provision in the law, the July 2020 elections resulted in approximately the same number of elected women as in 2016.

Even with the high profile of women during the July 2020 political contest, including female vice-presidential candidates on every party ticket, more than half of elected women were selected for secondary or substitute positions (such as vice presidency and vice mayor). Men won two-thirds of the direct leadership positions (such as presidency, mayor, and senator). For example, in the municipal elections, 724 of the candidates for mayoral positions were men while only 122 were women. Those numbers were effectively reversed for vice-mayoral positions, where 674 candidates were women and 122 were men.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and in a change from previous years noted by independent observers, the government generally implemented the law effectively. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.

NGO representatives said the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was traditionally a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Under President Abinader, however, the attorney general pursued a number of cases against public officials, including high-level politicians and their families, mostly from the previous administration but also including members of the current administration. Nonetheless, government corruption remained a serious problem.

Corruption: On June 15, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Administrative Corruption (PEPCA) arrested the then director of the national lottery Luis Maisichell Dicent following allegations that Dicent orchestrated a major fraud worth more than 150 million pesos ($2.5 million). On June 29, PEPCA arrested former attorney general Jean Alain Rodriguez and seven others on fraud, public corruption, and money-laundering charges related to the construction of La Nueva Victoria Penitentiary. In September PEPCA made several arrests related to a drug-trafficking and money-laundering scheme involving one current official and three congressmembers, including one from the ruling party. In November PEPCA launched another operation that involved active military commanders. Most notably, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Torres Robiou, an Air Force general and former head of the Specialized Tourist Security Corps under the current administration. At the end of the year, all these cases were under investigation, and many of the defendants were under pretrial detention.

NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police, judges, and minor officials.

Ecuador

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 nationwide elections held on February 7, citizens voted the president and vice president, 137 National Assembly members, and five representatives to the Andean Parliament. Creating Opportunities Movement candidate Guillermo Lasso Mendoza defeated UNES opponent Andres Arauz Galarza in an April 11 presidential runoff election. Official results indicated that almost 83 percent of more than 13.1 million registered voters participated in the runoff election. International observers from the Organization of American States, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and accredited diplomatic missions concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The February 2020 electoral reforms require that women lead no fewer than 15 percent of party candidate lists at all levels in 2021, at least 30 percent in scheduled 2023 local elections, and 50 percent in 2025. The law mandates that all presidential/vice presidential tickets include at least one woman starting in the 2025 national election.

In May the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana reported that despite the 2020 reforms, the percentage of female legislators elected decreased compared with 2017 (39 to 37 percent), with the proportion of female legislators progressively decreasing in every national election since the 2013 high (when 42 percent of all elected legislators were women). Further the report found most parties failed to fully abide by the reform requirement that women lead certain percentages of party candidate lists. The UNES coalition was an exception, as it exceeded the requirement in nearly all instances.

Social media harassment against female politicians and candidates continued, although the harassment generally declined compared with 2020. Participacion Ciudadana found 8,839 derogatory tweets against 28 sampled women in politics and government in a study of tweets posted between December 2019 and August 31. The study indicated violent messages against female politicians peaked in April 2020, as COVID-19 national quarantine measures took hold and women headed prominent ministries and served as government spokespersons most relevant to the lockdown. According to the study, 79 percent of derogatory tweets contained messaging dealing with the objectification of women and perceived roles of women in society.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption throughout the year.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government.

High-profile prosecutions and investigations of alleged public-health sector corruption during the COVID-19 crisis at the national, provincial, and municipal levels continued. On May 17, former Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS) board president Paul Granda was called to trial for charges of organized crime along with two former IESS hospital managers. Granda was also accused of alleged irregularities in medical supply acquisition contracts during the COVID-19 emergency. As of December 1, the date for proceedings remained pending.

Regarding the Sobornos (bribes) corruption scheme that illicitly financed former president Rafael Correa’s Alianza PAIS party in exchange for public contracts from 2012 to 2016, former vice president Jorge Glas was serving his eight-year sentence for involvement in the scheme, in addition to a six-year sentence in a separate case for an illicit association connected to Brazilian company Odebrecht. On August 18, Interpol denied a National Court of Justice request to issue a Red Notice for Correa, who was self-exiled in Belgium. The court stated it would continue to pursue the extradition of Correa and the other 14 defendants in the case, who were residing abroad.

On May 24, President Lasso issued Decree 4 on Governmental Ethical Behavior Standards that applies to all executive branch members. The decree includes a prohibition on remuneration of any nature to the spouses of the president and vice president; prohibits the nomination of executive branch officials’ relatives for other government positions; requires a preemptive declaration of conflicts of interest where they may exist; and prohibits the unofficial use of official aircraft, vehicles, and government property, among others.

Egypt

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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed based on religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year, sometimes with impunity.

Corruption: On April 7, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted Ahmed Shafik, former prime minister and presidential candidate, Captain Tawfiq Mohamed Assi, former chair of EgyptAir Holding Company, and Ibrahim Manaa, former civil aviation minister, of misappropriation of public funds from 2002 to 2011, according to local media.

On April 13, the Control Authority referred former member of parliament Gamal al-Showeikh and 12 other defendants, including public officials, for prosecution on charges of accepting bribes to influence a real estate project in Cairo. Al-Showeikh was originally arrested in March 2020.

On November 8, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Azim Hussein, former head of the tax authority, to 10 years in prison and a 674,000 EGP ($42,000) fine on corruption charges.

El Salvador

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: The most recent legislative and municipal elections occurred in February. Nuevas Ideas, the party affiliated with President Bukele, won 56 of 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly and 152 of 262 mayorships. The election reports published by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU electoral mission noted the election generally met international standards.

Observers noted that political and economic conditions prior to the elections may have been instrumental in swaying public support towards the Nuevas Ideas party, thus creating an unfair advantage for Nuevas Ideas candidates. Beginning in June 2020, the government withheld funding to the municipalities through the Social Development Fund, citing lack of funds due to the pandemic. Municipalities were not able to pay their employees and their bills and provided only limited services to residents. The lack of funding may have created the impression among voters that the sitting municipal leaders, who all belonged to oppositional political parties, were ineffective. Nuevas Ideas candidates then campaigned to bring about improvements to the political and economic situation within municipalities.

Before the February elections, the government failed to provide campaign finances to all political candidates as required by law, severely limiting the ability of the opposition parties to advertise their candidates. Candidates from the Nuevas Ideas party were not limited by the lack of government campaign financing because they had received campaign funds through private sources. As a result the election advertisements were predominantly from Nuevas Ideas candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While the law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections, the provision was not consistently enforced.

On May 5, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Legislative Assembly to make the necessary regulatory adjustments to provide suffrage to Salvadorans living abroad and allow all citizens to register and run as candidates for the legislative and municipal elections in 2024.

On September 3, the Constitutional Chamber approved a ruling to allow for the immediate re-election of the president despite the express prohibition on re-election by the constitution. The Constitutional Chamber determined that historical interpretations of the constitutional limits on re-election were erroneous and that sitting presidents may run for re-election if they resign the office six months prior to the end of the presidential term. Critics decried the ruling as an attack on democracy and pointed out that the Constitutional Chamber issuing the ruling was composed of five magistrates appointed by the Legislative Assembly on May 1 in a maneuver that was itself controversial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires all registered political parties to have at least 30 percent of their candidates for the Legislative Assembly be women. On May 1, El Diario de Hoy reported a low rate of women’s participation in politics, stating that women held 24 of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly, two seats fewer than in the previous Legislative Assembly. Women held 30 of the 262 mayoralty offices.

According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, 328,215 persons with disabilities registered to vote in the February 28 elections. The tribunal launched a campaign to encourage the political participation of persons with disabilities and added accommodations such as braille ballots.

The February 28 election was the first time in the country’s history to include a transgender candidate and an openly gay candidate. Alejandra Menjivar, a transgender woman, ran as a candidate for the Central American Parliament from the FMLN party. Erick Ivan Ortiz, an openly gay man, ran as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly from the Nuestro Tiempo party. Neither candidate won their respective election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. Although the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches and referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, corruption and impunity remained endemic.

Multiple officials in the executive branch were accused of engaging in corrupt acts. In many instances the government either ignored the actions or took steps to actively prevent prosecution of those officials unless the officials were political opponents or were members of previous administrations.

Corruption: On August 23, El Faro followed up on its September 2020 story accusing the Bukele administration of negotiating with senior gang leaders since 2019 to obtain electoral support and a reduction in homicides prior to this year’s legislative and municipal elections. Citing photographs and audio recordings, El Faro reported that former attorney general Raul Melara’s investigation found evidence that the Bukele administration negotiated with the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs and that the DGCP removed hard drives and hundreds of logbooks documenting the negotiations four days after the publication of the initial article.

On September 19, El Faro reported that the Attorney General’s Office under former attorney general Melara found evidence that Bureau of Prisons Director Osiris Luna embezzled $1.6 million worth of food between September and November 2020 from the Public Health Emergency Program, a government food program assisting families during the pandemic. There was also evidence that Luna then resold these goods to a merchant who was known to sell contraband.

According to media reports, President Bukele dismissed Minister of Justice and Public Security Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco in March due to Rivas Polanco diverting public funds to a private account to finance his presidential candidacy in the 2024 elections.

On May 6, the Legislative Assembly approved the Law for the Use of Products for Medical Treatments in Exceptional Public Health Situations Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The law includes provisions to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability and allows the government to bypass procurement and transparency regulations. According to the NGO Democracy, Transparency, and Justice Foundation, the new law seeks to retroactively protect government officials from misuse of public money for pandemic spending that occurred before the approval of the law.

On June 4, President Bukele announced the termination of the cooperation agreement with the OAS, bringing an end to the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). The president claimed the termination was in response to the OAS announcing the hiring of former San Salvador mayor Ernesto Muyshondt as an advisor to the OAS. The president explained that Muyshondt faced criminal proceedings for negotiating with gangs for electoral support and therefore the government could not continue to work with an organization that hired a criminal as an advisor. Analysts and media reported that CICIES was investigating Bukele administration officials and speculated that the president used the Muyshondt issue as a pretense to terminate the CICIES agreement to stymie the investigations into his administration. In July, OAS representatives stated they offered Muyshondt an honorary contract but did not formally hire him and that the contract was never signed. Head of CICIES Ronalth Ochaeta said CICIES sent 12 cases of possible corruption from five government institutions to the Attorney General’s Office on April 7. As of September 13, the Attorney General’s Office had not revealed the details of those investigations.

Officials from the Attorney General’s Office raided the headquarters of opposition party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) on July 2 and seized assets to recover funds embezzled from a donation by Taiwan made between 2003 and 2004. Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado stated that former president Antonio Saca financed his electoral campaign with $10 million donated by Taiwan for reconstruction projects following two earthquakes in 2001.

On July 22, the PNC arrested five former government officials on charges of illicit enrichment for having received illegal side payments that exceeded their salaries authorized by law. All five served in the administration of former president Mauricio Funes, who remained under political asylum protection in Nicaragua to evade charges of illicit enrichment. Attorney General Delgado also issued arrest warrants for four more government officials, including former president Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who left the country in December 2020 and became a citizen of Nicaragua on July 30. Funes, Ceren, the five arrested officials, and the other former officials with arrest warrants all belonged to opposition party FMLN.

As of August 10, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) failed to fulfill its legal obligation to publish the 2020 report on public entities. The report, approved in November 2020, evaluated the transparency performance of 98 government institutions and 60 municipalities and was expected to cover information related to purchases, contracts, or tenders made during the COVID-19 pandemic. After President Bukele appointed three commissioners to the IAIP, the institute decided in December 2020 to postpone publication of the report. As of August 20, the Ethics Tribunal reported that it had opened 170 administrative proceedings against 240 public officials. The Ethics Tribunal imposed sanctions on 19 cases and referred 18 cases to the Attorney General’s Office.

On September 8, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the criminal procedure code to remove the statute of limitations and apply the law retroactively to crimes of corruption.

Equatorial Guinea

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 elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent elections: In 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the PDGE and 14 coalition parties claimed 92 percent of the vote in the country’s closed-list party system. The PDGE and its coalition partners took all 75 Senate seats and 99 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. CI was the only opposition party to win a seat in the legislature, although the single opposition legislator was imprisoned for several months during 2018 and was never allowed to take his seat. At the local level, the PDGE coalition won all but one of the municipal council seats and all but one mayoral race.

There were irregularities and no transparency in the electoral process. The voter census and registration process took place without independent domestic or international monitoring. The government blocked access to social media, opposition websites, and international channels during the electoral campaigns. Authorities closely monitored and tightly controlled public gatherings. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies; the PDGE received preferential treatment.

Only government-selected observers participated in the election. They could not communicate for more than a week before the elections because of a shutdown of the internet. The government created an atmosphere of intimidation by deploying military personnel at polling stations.

In 2016 President Obiang claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in presidential elections that were marred by reports of capricious application of election laws, nontransparent political funding, polling station irregularities, voter fraud, intimidation, and violence. Military personnel and PDGE representatives were present at all polling stations. There were instances in which procedures to protect ballot secrecy were not enforced. Photographs of the president remained on public buildings used as polling stations. Electoral officials, led by the head of the electoral commission (the minister of interior, who was also a member of the ruling party), denied some opposition candidates the opportunity to register and applied requirements irregularly.

Contrary to the constitution, which requires that presidential elections be held no more than 45 days before or 60 days after the end of the prior presidential term, the election was held 136 days before the end of the president’s term.

In the months leading up to the presidential election, security forces violently dispersed opposition rallies and arrested demonstrators and opposition leaders. Some opposition political parties chose to boycott the elections in protest.

The government and the PDGE had a near-absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with almost no means to disseminate their message. Despite a “pact” regulating access to media and political financing and supposedly providing free weekly national radio and television spots for opposition parties, the PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received almost none. The PDGE was also able to cover cities throughout the country in campaign posters and gave away smart phones, promotional clothing, and even cars at campaign events.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was not independent of the PDGE or government influence. By law the NEC consists of six judges appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, six government representatives and a secretary appointed by the president, and one representative from each registered political party. The president appointed the minister of interior, a PDGE leader, to head the NEC. Election laws regarding the NEC were not enforced.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDGE ruled through a complex network of family, clan, and ethnic relationships. Public-sector employees were pressured to join the PDGE and to agree to garnishment of their salaries to fund PDGE activities. The party’s near monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered independent opposition parties Convergence for Social Democracy and CI. Most parties joined the PDGE coalition as part of the “aligned opposition.”

Political parties could receive both private and public funding but were not required to disclose the amount of private funding. In advance of the 2016 presidential elections, only the PDGE received public funding, and the amount was not disclosed.

The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment before and after the legislative and presidential elections.

Opposition members reported discrimination in hiring, job retention, and obtaining scholarships and business licenses. They also claimed the government pressured foreign companies not to hire opposition members. Businesses that employed citizens with ties to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government reportedly were selectively forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.

Registered opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. For example, supporters who attended opposition political party campaign rallies were singled out for police interrogation and harassment. Some political parties that existed before the law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned for allegedly “supporting terrorism.” The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but required prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied the permit requests.

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. The government deregistered the CI in 2018, and it remained suspended, despite the 2018 general political amnesty and the 2018 presidential pardon of its members for sedition and other offenses. Authorities did not allow elected CI officials to take their positions in local and national offices. Attempts by CI officials to reregister or create a new party met with bureaucratic delays that appeared intended to prevent registration. High-level government officials claimed in February the party could reregister if Gabriel Nze Obiang resigned as the party leader.

Authorities removed civil servants for political reasons and without due process. Party affiliation remained a key factor in obtaining government employment.

The president exercised strong powers as head of state, commander of the armed forces, head of the judiciary, and founder and head of the ruling party. The government generally restricted leadership positions in government to select PDGE members or members of a coalition of loyal parties that campaigned and voted with the PDGE.

In October the PDGE concluded a “gira,” or tour of the country, in advance of the 2022 legislative elections. No opposition party conducted a gira, due to a curfew imposed at the end of the PDGE gira and to a lack of funding.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Patriarchal cultural influences, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas.

The president, vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, all three vice prime ministers, and the president of the chamber of deputies were men; the president of the Senate was a woman. After the 2017 elections, women occupied 21 of 72 Senate seats and 11 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In the reshuffled August 2020 cabinet, three of the 25 cabinet ministers were women, and two of the 24 deputy and vice-ministers were women. There was one woman among the eight justices of the Supreme Court.

The government did not overtly limit minority participation in politics, but members of the Fang ethnic group occupied most of the top ranks. Estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, the Fang group exercised dominant political and economic power. The law prohibits parties that are not national, eliminating opportunities for minority or regionally focused parties, although minorities were represented in most major parties, including the PDGE.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides severe criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not effectively implement the law. There are no specific laws concerning conflict of interest or nepotism. On May 10, the government passed an anticorruption measure, Law No. 1/2021, imposing stricter standards of behavior on public officials regarding their interactions with the formal and informal private sector.

Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. The president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal fortunes from the revenues associated with monopolies on all domestic commercial ventures, as well as timber and oil exports. Corruption at all levels of government was a severe problem.

According to Freedom House, the budget process was “opaque.” The government continued to improve fiscal transparency, including auditing state-owned enterprises and public debt using international accounting firms and publishing data on public-sector debt in the budget.

Corruption: Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption.

On July 28, France’s highest court upheld conviction of the vice president for money laundering and embezzling public funds. French authorities were expected to return $177 million in seized assets to the country.

In July 2020 authorities arrested 13 officials of the treasury for allegedly stealing financial instruments worth more than $500,000. In February authorities tried and convicted the defendants and sentenced them to five-year prison sentences and substantial fines.

Eritrea

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, but they were not able to exercise this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government came to power in a 1993 popular referendum, in which voters chose to have an independent country managed by a transitional government. The transitional government did not permit the formation of a democratic system. The government twice scheduled elections but canceled them without explanation. An official declaration in 2003 asserted, “In accordance with the prevailing wish of the people, it is not the time to establish political parties, and discussion of the establishment has been postponed.” In November local communities in the Central and Southern Red Sea regions elected neighborhood and village administrators. Unlike 2019 regional elections, these were conducted by secret ballot and all residents older than 18 could vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The country is a one-party state. Political power rests with the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice and its institutions; the government does not allow the formation of any other political parties. Membership in the People’s Front was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities reportedly visited citizens in their homes after they completed national service and compelled them to join the party and pay the required fees. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of People’s Front membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some citizens in the diaspora claimed such meetings also occurred at embassies abroad, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority ethnic groups in the political process. Openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons risk imprisonment (see section 6), and thus do not openly participate in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Persons seeking executive or judicial services sometimes reported they obtained services more easily after paying a “gift” or bribe. Patronage, cronyism, and petty corruption within the executive branch were based largely on family connections and used to facilitate access to social benefits. Judicial corruption was a problem, and authorities generally did not prosecute acts such as property seizure by military or security officials or those seen as being in favor with the government. Local party officials, who draw no direct salary, are reported to engage in petty corruption to provide necessary paperwork.

There were reports of police corruption. Police occasionally used their influence to facilitate the release from prison of friends and family members. Private citizens used influence with police to harass, assault, and even jail those with whom they have personal disputes.

Estonia

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: Parliamentary elections in 2019 were considered free and fair and led to the formation of a three-party coalition government comprising the Center Party, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, and the Pro Patria party. The coalition led by Prime Minister Juri Ratas (Center Party) collapsed due to a corruption scandal involving Center Party members’ misuse of state loans intended for coronavirus pandemic relief. On January 26, Kaja Kallas’s Reform Party took office in coalition with the Center Party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law allows only citizens to organize or join political parties.

Noncitizens who are long-term residents may vote in local elections but cannot vote in national elections or hold public office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Criminal cases related to Edgar Savisaar, former mayor of Tallinn and leader of the Center Party, were resolved at the end of 2020. Although the cases against Savisaar ended in 2018 due to his deteriorating health, court proceedings continued against others involved in the case. In November 2020 the Supreme Court rejected those defendants’ appeals, leaving the rulings of lower courts in place. As a result, former minister of the environment Villu Reiljan was found guilty of facilitating bribes for Savisaar in connection with illegal construction activities and was fined 33,320 euros ($38,300). In addition, the person convicted of promising the bribe to Savisaar was fined 15,000 euros ($17,250).

Edgar Savisaar was involved in an additional bribery case involving the financing of Center Party election advertisements with an illegal campaign donation. As with the previous case, charges against Savisaar were dropped due to his health, and the case against others involved was also resolved in November 2020. In an effort to hide the bribe, a businessman provided a 275,000-euro ($316,000) loan to a company connected with the Center Party. The Center Party was found guilty of accepting an illegal campaign donation. The court punished the party with a 275,000 euro fine, 25,000 euros ($28,800) of which was to be paid immediately, while the rest will remain unpaid if the party is not convicted of additional crimes. The businessman behind the illegal donation was fined 200,000 euros ($230,000).

The number of corruption crimes in 2020 remained on par with 2019, and there were no new large-scale criminal cases involving allegations of government corruption.

Eswatini

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Political rights were restricted, although citizens could choose 59 of the 69 members of the House of Assembly in procedurally credible, periodic elections held by secret ballot.

Legislation passed by parliament requires the king’s consent to become law. Under the constitution the king selects the prime minister, the cabinet, two-thirds of the Senate, 10 of 69 members of the House of Assembly, the chief justice and other justices of the superior courts, members of commissions established by the constitution, and the heads of government offices. On the advice of the prime minister, the king appoints the cabinet from among members of parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers described the 2018 parliamentary elections as credible, peaceful, and well managed. The country organized nominations for members of parliament by local constituencies, or tinkhundla. Traditional chiefs convened nominating meetings for candidates to parliament and other offices and in a few cases confirmed whether nominees were members of the chiefdom. Candidates for each chiefdom were then chosen in a primary election conducted by secret ballot. Although some chiefs may have exercised influence through lobbying, there was little evidence their influence was widespread or decisive in the formation of electoral lists.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not address how political parties may operate, and there was no legal mechanism for them to contest elections or appear on a ballot. The constitution also requires that candidates for public office compete on their individual merit, which courts have interpreted as blocking competition based on political party affiliation.

Participation in the traditional sphere of governance and politics takes place predominantly through chiefdoms. Chiefs are custodians of traditional law and custom, report directly to the king, and are responsible for the day-to-day running of their chiefdoms and maintenance of law and order. Although local custom mandates that chieftaincy is hereditary, the constitution, while recognizing that chieftaincy is “usually hereditary and is regulated by Swati law and custom,” also allows the king to “appoint any person to be chief over any area.” As a result, many chieftaincies were nonhereditary appointments, a fact that provoked land disputes, especially at the time of the death and burial of chiefs.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The constitution provides for five of the king’s 10 appointed seats in the House of Assembly to be held by women and for the appointed members to represent “interests, including marginalized groups not already adequately represented in the House.” The king appointed only three women to the House of Assembly following the 2018 elections, in which only two women were elected. If, after an election, women constitute less than 30 percent of the total membership of parliament, the constitution and law require the House to elect four additional women, one from each region. The House complied with this requirement.

The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, and the House of Assembly elects the other 10. The constitution requires that eight of the 20 members appointed by the king be women and that five of the 10 members elected by the House be women. The House of Assembly complied by electing five women to the Senate, but the king appointed only seven women.

Widows in mourning (for periods that may extend up to two years) were prevented from appearing in certain public places or being in proximity to the king or a chief’s official residence. Widows were sometimes excluded from running for office or taking active public roles in their communities during those periods.

There were very few ethnic minorities in the country, and they were represented in government at a commensurate ratio.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption continued to be a problem, most often involving personal relationships and bribes being used to secure government contracts on large capital projects. Throughout the year several school principals were convicted for misappropriation of school funds.

There were credible reports that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Although parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was limited in its authority to apply and enforce consequences except by drawing public attention to potential corruption, it continued to pursue investigations, particularly those related to public spending, and received broad media attention for its efforts.

Ethiopia

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’s sixth general election took place on June 21, despite pressure from the international community to postpone the election because of continuing insecurity and withdrawal of international observers. In May the EU withdrew its Electoral Observation Mission citing a “lack of agreement on key parameters.” The EU accused authorities of not giving assurances on the independence of the mission and refusing to let them import communication systems for their security. The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) responded by saying they were trying to hold the elections in accordance with domestic laws and international standards.

Domestic and international nonpartisan observers generally agreed that the June 21 elections were peaceful. While observers considered the elections a positive step in the country’s democratic trajectory, they also cited challenges, including security problems and large turnouts that overwhelmed polling stations across the country. Observers also noted that the elections took place against a backdrop of grave instability, including interethnic and intercommunal violence, and an electoral process that was not free or fair for all citizens. While some major opposition parties boycotted the elections, observers assessed the result generally reflected the will of most citizens. According to NEBE, 30 of the 47 parties that participated in the elections filed complaints regarding the election, covering 160 constituencies.

On July 10, NEBE announced the results for 423 of the 547 (77 percent) of the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HOPR) constituencies. On September 30, the board held a second round of elections for an additional 47 constituencies (constituting 9 percent of the electorate) in Somali, Harari, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Regions. Of these, NEBE held reruns of 11 constituencies where elections were held on June 21, but neither the board nor the courts identified irregularities requiring a rerun. Authorities postponed elections in an additional 74 constituencies (approximately 14 percent), which require elections in the future, including 35 constituencies spread across several regions and the 38 constituencies in the Tigray Region, which represent 7 percent of the HOPR seats.

Prime Minister Abiy’s Prosperity Party dominated, winning 96 percent of the seats. On October 4, the country began the process of forming a government during joint sessions of the HOPR and the House of Federation – the lower and upper chambers of parliament, respectively. The HOPR accepted the nomination by the majority Prosperity Party of Abiy Ahmed to serve as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. The law requires parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies.

In March the government issued Proclamation 1235/2021, A Proclamation to Amend the Political Parties Registration and Electoral Code of Conduct. This law reduced the 5,000 signatures private candidates were required to collect to 2,500. The signature requirement for candidates with disabilities was also reduced from 3,000 to 1,500. Collection of signatures was not required during the year as part of the government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The government allowed opposition parties to participate in debates, hold rallies, and campaign actively, although there were serious allegations of government abuses. In June prior to the election date, several political parties issued a joint statement concerning the electoral process. The political parties alleged government abuses against their candidates, including killings, attempted killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, and harassment. Some government organizations reportedly forced candidates to accept leave without pay on a mandatory basis. Opposition parties complained that measures the government took against their candidates negatively affected their preparations for the election.

In March two major political parties in Oromia boycotted the election. The Oromo Liberation Front – one of the country’s oldest parties with a major following in Oromia – pulled out, citing the jailing of some of its leaders and the alleged closure of its offices by the government, including its headquarters in the capital. In the same month, the Oromo Federalist Congress announced that it was forced to pull out of the election on similar grounds.

More opposition parties withdrew from the second round of the elections scheduled for September 30. On September 17, the Executive Committee of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – the major opposition group in Somali Region – announced its decision to “withdraw from the 2021 election.” ONLF’s statement on the election accused NEBE of failing to ensure conditions for a free and fair election despite the party’s “repeated appeals” on the ruling party’s fraud in voter and candidate registration. On September 21, the Freedom and Equality Party and the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA) also announced their withdrawal from the elections.

Although some reports characterized the election process as not conducive for opposition parties, opposition parties won 11 seats in the HOPR. The National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) won five seats in Amhara, while EZEMA and the Gedeo People’s Democratic Organization won four and two seats, respectively, in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. In Oromia two independent candidates with no clear ties to the government won seats. The other two winning independent candidates – one in Oromia and one in Addis Ababa – were known advisors to the prime minister. While opposition parties garnered more seats than before, they did not win the 21 seats needed to introduce legislation or amendments or to raise topics for discussion within the HOPR.

The government invited opposition parties to work together and participate in the government. In October the government appointed EZEMA Executive Committee member Girma Seifu as head of the Investment Commission and the deputy chairman of NAMA as head of the Addis Ababa Public Property Administration Authority, although they were not elected. During its first extraordinary session on October 6, the HOPR approved the appointment of a 22-member cabinet including three opposition leaders: EZEMA Leader Berhanu Nega as minister of education, NAMA Chair Belete Molla as minister of innovation and technology, and Oromo Liberation Front deputy chair Qajela Merdassa as minister of culture and sports.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prevent women or members of minority groups from voting or participating in political life, although patriarchal customs, religious factors, and family commitments limited female participation in political life in some cases. Since same-sex activity is illegal, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons did not identify themselves in political activity, and it was thus difficult to determine their participation. During election periods women experienced more psychological abuse and violence than physical violence in comparison to men. Women were also more likely to experience sexual harassment within political party structures or when running for office. Although many women went to the polls, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) reported that the environment at polling stations was not conducive for women. EWLA criticized NEBE for not taking a more gender-sensitive approach to election day administration. EWLA stated that the extension of voting time until 9:00 p.m. had a disproportionately negative impact on women voters, observers, and officials because women faced a higher risk of sexual harassment and gender-based violence at night. EWLA also explained that the long lines left women voters at higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment and recommended separate lines for men and women. In June the Federation of Ethiopia Associations of Persons with Disabilities (FEAPD) deployed its representatives to observe the election. In its preliminary report, FEAPD noted accessibility for persons with disabilities was hindered, and that persons with disabilities required additional assistance to access 22 percent of the polling stations visited by observers. FEAPD also noted that of the approximately 200 polling stations they observed, only one government official in one polling station was a person with a disability. In 11 percent of polling stations, political parties fielded persons with disabilities as partisan observers. Local human rights organizations also reported that millions of IDPs could not participate in the election because NEBE did not establish polling places in displacement camps.

Although there were increases in women’s representation, women remained significantly underrepresented across both elected and appointed positions. On October 6, the HOPR appointed only seven women ministers to the 22-member cabinet – a decrease from approximately 42 percent of the ministers previously to 30 percent.

The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide representation for all major ethnic groups in the House of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament). The government recognized more than 80 ethnicities, and the constitution states that at least one member represent each “Nation, Nationality, and People” in the House of the Federation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively or comprehensively. The government enacted policies to hold government officials more accountable. There were isolated reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

On February 19, the HOPR issued the revised proclamation for the establishment of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, which assessed that the revised proclamation would increase its capacity to implement the law.

Corruption: In September the federal prosecutor withdrew charges against Ministry of Education officials Mekonnen Addis, Eshetu Asfaw, Taye Mengistu, and Nigusse Beyene who had been arrested in September 2020 for corrupt procurement resulting in a loss of 280 million birr ($6.48 million) and the production of books not meeting the requirements of the bidding contract. The federal prosecutor dropped the charges against all the officials due to doubts concerning the reliability of the material evidence used in the case.

Fiji

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 voters elected 51 members of parliament. The governing Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. In presenting its conclusions, the Australian- and Indonesian-led Multinational Observer Group stated: “Conditions supported Fijians exercising their right to vote freely. The 2018 process was transparent and credible overall, and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. The government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office. Civil service members and trade union officials are required to resign their offices if they seek to run for political office. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues, and these were granted in an open, nonpartisan way.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization involved in an election campaign from receiving funding from foreign governments, government-recognized intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and it forbids multilateral agencies such as the World Bank from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

On June 7, Parliament approved three amendments to reform electoral laws. The amendments grant wider discretionary powers over the electoral process to the supervisor of elections to monitor and order the removal of campaign content published by political parties that is deemed to be false, misleading, or designed to diminish public confidence in the office of the supervisor and the Electoral Commission. The office of the supervisor may direct a political party or person (including an internet service provider) to remove or correct any statement or information published during the elections, under penalty of a substantial fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

Any appeals against a decision of the Registrar of Political Parties (whose role was consolidated with that of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections) are routed to the Electoral Commission instead of the high court. Critics maintained that the high court should remain the only judicial mechanism for redress, as is the case for every other constitutional independent institution in the country. Public officials previously prohibited from participating in political campaigns (such as permanent secretaries or senior military officers) can make political statements and, according to the amended law, can “conduct campaign activities” by providing information or security services. Critics alleged that the change was designed to permit use of state apparatus and resources to campaign on behalf of the ruling Fiji First Party, while other public officers, including trade unionists, remained barred from membership in a political party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women specifically or of members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Legislation passed in late September may, however, affect the voter registration status of thousands of married women and some other persons. The new legislation, designed to address an anomaly in the previous law, requires all persons registering to vote (or seeking other official identification documents) to use their birth certificate name. While some political leaders claimed the law applies only to new registrants, others argued it would require married women to reregister and that the process could prevent them from voting in the next elections.

Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Despite holding six of 13 cabinet minister positions and six of 10 assistant minister positions, Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, were generally underrepresented in government and the military.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (hereafter “corruption commission”) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including corruption commission public service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on corruption commission investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption.

The government adequately funded the corruption commission, but some observers questioned its independence. Corruption cases often proceeded slowly.

Finland

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’s national parliamentary election in 2019 and the presidential election in 2018 were considered free and fair. After an inspection revealed that procedures at a drive-in polling station had deviated from guidelines to ensure election secrecy, the parliamentary ombudsman asked the city of Espoo for a statement on ensuring election secrecy in exceptional voting arrangements.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The National Bureau of Investigation stated that the former director general of the National Audit Office, Tytti Yli-Viikari, and its former director, Mikko Koiranen, were suspected of aggravated abuse of office and breach of duty over salary payments to an agency employee without a duty to work and a possible illegal use of frequent flyer program flight points. Parliament fired Yli-Viikari; Koiranen was suspended from his duties.

France

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 periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate parliamentary (National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In November 2020 former president Nicolas Sarkozy stood trial on corruption charges for trying to obtain confidential information through his lawyer from a judge. Prosecutors claimed he offered to help the judge obtain a well-paid post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling. On March 1, the Paris Criminal Court found Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence-peddling in the “Wiretapping Affair.” Sarkozy, his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and the now-retired magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, were each sentenced to three-year prison terms, with two years suspended. All three appealed the verdict.

In June 2020 the inspector general of the National Police placed six officers from a Paris unit into custody on charges of theft, drug possession, and extorting money from drug dealers. In July 2020 four of them were formally charged. The officers were part of the Security and Intervention Unit (CSI 93) in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, one of the poorest in the country. CSI 93, tasked with addressing urban violence and crime, had 17 preliminary investigations open against its officers for violations. In September 2020 the inspector general placed four other officers in custody on violence and forgery charges. On June 4, a Bobigny court sentenced two officers from the unit to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a five-year prohibition from serving in the police force over “violence,” “forgery,” and “use of forgery” charges. Two other officers received a four-month suspended prison sentence for falsifying documents related to a January 2020 arrest.

On July 17, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) announced that Rachida Dati, formerly minister of justice and the 2020 Republican Party candidate for mayor of Paris, was indicted on July 22 for corruption and abuse of power. Dati was accused of receiving 900,000 euros ($1.04 million) from Renault-Nissan from 2010 to 2012 to conduct illegal lobbying while serving as a member of the European Parliament. Dati said she would appeal the PNF’s decision.

Gabon

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; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In early 2018 the Constitutional Court dissolved the National Assembly. The Senate assumed National Assembly responsibilities, and a caretaker government was installed. In late 2018 legislative elections were held. Both rounds of legislative elections were calm, with a voter turnout of 43 percent in the first round. The PDG won 100 of 143 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, vote buying, polling stations opening without the presence of opposition representatives, and unfair treatment of the opposition by the Gabonese Elections Center. Domestic and international organizations were not authorized to observe the elections. A limited African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. President Ali Bongo Ondimba was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities. These included a questionable vote count, several days after other provinces announced their results, in Bongo Ondimba’s home province, where participation was allegedly more than 99 percent, even though nationwide participation was 54 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition party members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of restrictions on the formation of political parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women were in several prominent positions in the government, including the prime minister and the presidents of the Senate and the Constitutional Court. As of December women held 11 of 34 ministerial positions, but women held only 23 of 143 National Assembly seats and 19 of 102 Senate seats. Cultural and traditional factors, as well as social stigma, prevented women and historically marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons from participating equally in political life. In July the Ministry of Social Affairs and Women’s Rights initiated a mentoring program to encourage women to enter politics as part of the “strategy for promoting women’s rights and reducing gender equalities in Gabon.”

Although members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions, members of indigenous populations rarely participated in the political process (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were isolated new reports of government corruption during the year. According to media and NGOs, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Some police were inefficient and corrupt. There were reports of police, gendarmes, and military members seeking bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents.

According to reports from the African immigrant community, in order to exact bribes, police and other security force members often detained and falsely accused noncitizen Africans of lacking valid resident permits or identification documents.

Former presidential chief of staff Brice Laccruche was arrested in 2019 on corruption charges. In April the prosecutors added charges against Laccruche for using false documents to obtain Gabonese citizenship; in October he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years. The trial for the corruption charges was pending for Laccruche and several other arrested at the same time.

Former minister of transport and member of parliament Justin Ndoundangoye was arrested in 2019 on corruption charges. The trial procedures were underway at year’s end.

Gambia

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: President Adama Barrow won reelection in December with 53 percent of the vote. International and domestic observers agreed the process was peaceful, free, fair, and conducted without intimidation, although with widespread but minor administrative problems. Some voters waited up to four hours at busier polling stations; 89 percent of registered voters participated.

Before the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) released the final results on December 5, Ousainou Darboe, Independent candidate Essa Faal, National Unity Party candidate Abdoulie Jammeh, and Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) candidate Mama Kandeh released a joint statement calling in question the results, citing a delay in announcing the results. Following the IEC’s announcement Barrow had won, Fall and Jammeh conceded. Kandeh, who had aligned himself with former president Yahya Jammeh, and Darboe did not concede.

On December 14, the UDP filed a complaint in the Supreme Court seeking nullification of the election, arguing that election officials improperly registered noncitizens, that voters presented falsified registration cards, and that President Barrow improperly influenced voters by promising compensation to village chiefs and by launching infrastructure projects in the weeks prior to the election. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

The country held legislative elections in 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. GDC leader Mama Kandeh rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Data showed more women than men registered to vote in the presidential election. While there were more voting age women than men, there was also a strong spirit of electoral participation among women. Despite this, cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process. Men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet. Only five women held seats in the 58-member National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not credibly investigate or prosecute any official accused of corruption. There were many allegations of government corruption.

Corruption: A culture of corruption persisted among government officials, including many former officials of the Jammeh government who remained in government positions, as well as officials elected and appointed since 2017. Small-scale corruption remained the norm. Citizens reported frequent demands for bribes in exchange for smoothing regulatory hurdles, accessing port facilities, and obtaining government services. Police corruption remained a daily problem, since officers routinely pulled over vehicles and fabricated infractions, or demanded money to let drivers go. A July Afrobarometer survey showed citizens perceived corruption as an increasingly serious problem. Six in 10 respondents said corruption had increased “somewhat” or “a lot” since 2020. Three-quarters of respondents said the government was not doing enough to combat the problem. Only half believed they could report corruption to authorities without fear of retaliation.

Georgia

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. In 2018 a new constitution went into effect that eliminated direct election of the president and established a fully proportional electoral system for the 2024 parliamentary elections, among other provisions.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in October 2020 and second-round runoff elections in 17 of 30 electoral districts in November 2020. The OSCE deployed a limited number of observers for the October elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its March 5 final report, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) assessed the October 2020 elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but it stated “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state” reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process. ODIHR particularly highlighted concerns regarding ruling-party dominance in election commissions. Other problems included widespread reports of intimidation of party supporters and public-sector employees. ODIHR also reported continuing shortcomings in the complaints and appeals process, concluding that “the systemic rejection of the majority of complaints on formalistic grounds, significantly limited the opportunity to seek effective legal remedy.”

Domestic civil society organizations deployed approximately 3,000 election observers across the country. They alleged misuse of administrative resources by the ruling party, voter intimidation, vote buying, violations of ballot secrecy, obstruction of journalists and domestic election observers, and inaccurate and altered vote tabulation at the precinct and district level. Domestic organizations submitted hundreds of electoral complaints and were highly critical of the Central Election Commission’s management of the elections. In November 2020, 26 domestic NGOs issued a statement describing the conduct of the October 31 elections as the worst held under Georgian Dream. In addition, opposition parties alleged the number of missing ballots in certain precincts indicated there was widespread “carousel voting.” Leading domestic nonpartisan election monitors reported most postelection complaints were rejected by the election administration and courts, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and the outcome of the election.

As a result of the alleged violations leading up to and on election day, opposition parties boycotted the runoff elections on November 21 and refused to take their seats in parliament. In December 2020 the new parliament was sworn in, but only the ruling Georgian Dream members of parliament took their seats (Georgian Dream won 90 of 150 seats). The OSCE did not observe the November 2020 runoff elections, and most domestic observer groups significantly scaled back their observation efforts or did not observe because of the boycott. Nevertheless, domestic election monitoring organizations raised concerns regarding electoral violations on election day.

The country held local government elections on October 2, 2021, and second-round runoff elections in five cities, including Tbilisi and 15 municipalities, and for 42 majoritarian seats in 24 local councils on October 30. The OSCE deployed an international election observation mission for both election rounds.

In its preliminary statement on the first-round of local elections, the OSCE mission stated, “Contestants were able to campaign freely in a competitive environment that was, however, marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field.” The OSCE preliminary statement also expressed concern regarding “cases of intimidation and violence against journalists” (see section 2.a.) and noted that “significant imbalance in resources, insufficient oversight of campaign finances and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party…The pervasive misuse of citizen observers as party representatives, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations were of concern.”

Domestic civil society organizations deployed more than 1,000 election observers across the country for the first-round of local elections. The organizations identified violations of the secrecy of the ballot, tracking of voters by unauthorized persons, voting with improper voter identification documents, persons attempting to vote multiple times, and voters who were permitted to cast a ballot without checking for indelible ink. In its report on the October 2 elections, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) noted that “the environment outside of some polling stations was problematic, where cases of voter mobilization, tracking/noting of voters and alleged vote buying were observed.” In a report issued prior to election day, Transparency International/Georgia highlighted significant campaign finance imbalances, noting that the ruling Georgian Dream party accounted for 70 percent of all electoral subjects’ revenues and expenditures during the pre-election period.

The OSCE preliminary report on the October 30 second-round elections found that “candidates were generally able to campaign freely, but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted. Sharp imbalances in resources, and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field. The transparency and accountability of campaign finance were reduced by insufficient oversight.” The law continued to lack “clear and objective criteria” for granting and conducting recounts and voting annulments. This lack of clarity provided district election commissions and courts “broad discretionary powers” in responding to such requests. At the same time, concerns persisted regarding the impartiality of lower-level election commissions. The tone toward the ruling party by the country’s public broadcaster became more positive as election day approached (see section 2.a.). ISFED’s report on the October 30 second-round elections suggested that “the instances of gatherings of persons outside of polling stations, alleged vote buying, voter mobilization and tracking of voters, negatively reflected on the expression of the free will of voters; in municipalities where the difference was minimal, this could have had an influence on the election results.” Likewise, Transparency International/Georgia found that because “the elections in many precincts were concluded with a rather narrow margin, the violations and problematic tendencies, encountered both in the pre-election period and on election day, might have had a serious impact on the ability of voters to exercise their free choice, as well as on the final results of the elections. Therefore, the public could have legitimate questions with regards to the overall fairness of the elections.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Credible reports of political violence continued. Intimidation, pressure against voters and candidates, and abuse of administrative resources, further blurring the lines between the government and ruling party, persisted throughout the first and second rounds of the October municipal elections. Many interlocutors continued to report intimidation and pressure on voters, including threats of dismissals and of promises of employment and payments. This was particularly aimed at those reliant on the state for wages or social support, allegedly using the extensive system of ruling-party coordinators and involving law enforcement bodies. On September 21, opposition mayoral candidate Giorgi Tatuashvili was stabbed in the face at a political rally in Dmanisi. The assailants were reportedly the son and father, respectively, of two Georgian Dream candidates for city council. On September 25, the empty vehicle of a For Georgia party mayoral candidate in Tsageri was hit by gunshots the day after a public meeting between the candidate and the For Georgia party chairman, former prime minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for a gender quota for candidates for seats in parliament and on city councils. The law aims to increase the number of women in the electoral process by 2024 and requires that every third candidate on a party list be a woman by 2028. In June parliament voted to soften the gender quota for the October municipal elections, which reduced the number of female candidates required for inclusion on proportional candidate lists. In its preliminary statement following its observation of the October 2 local government elections, the OSCE stated that “the underrepresentation of women in the campaign demonstrates a need for greater commitment to ensure adequate representation in politics.” Although awareness of inclusion issues was growing, the acceptance of women and minority communities including youth, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI+ community and ethnic minority groups remained incomplete within political parties. The ability of the LGBTQI+ community to exercise an active voice during the elections was suppressed by the July 5 attacks (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). Political parties rarely engaged with ethnic minorities except during election cycles, and few political parties made their party programs available online in minority languages.

De facto authorities in Abkhazia stripped ethnic Georgians of their Abkhaz “citizenship” in 2014, preventing them from participating in de facto elections. Ethnic Georgians willing to apply for de facto Abkhaz passports generally did not receive them in time to participate in de facto elections due to extensive delays. Ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia were also required to accept a South Ossetian “passport” and “citizenship” to participate in political life. International actors, including the OSCE Group of Friends of Georgia, did not recognize the legitimacy of the de facto elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption. While the government implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption, NGOs continued to cite weak checks and balances and a lack of independence of law enforcement agencies among the factors contributing to allegations of high-level corruption. NGOs assessed there were no effective mechanisms for preventing corruption in state-owned enterprises and independent regulatory bodies. NGOs continued to call for an independent anticorruption agency outside the authority of the State Security Service, alleging its officials were abusing its functions.

On September 8, Transparency International/Georgia stated the country had “impressively low levels of petty corruption combined with near total impunity for high-level corruption.” The country also lacked an independent anticorruption agency to combat high-level corruption.

Several months after resigning, in a May 31 interview former prime minister Giorgi Gakharia noted that the country’s “biggest challenge is weak institutions. When institutions are weak, corruption and nepotism represent a problem.”

The Anticorruption Coordination Council included government officials, legal professionals, business representatives, civil society, and international organizations. In March amendments to the Law on Conflict of Interest in Public Service moved responsibility for assisting the work of the Anticorruption Council from the Justice Ministry to the Administration of the Government, headed by the prime minister but separate from the Prime Minister’s Office. Formation of the relevant secretariat was underway at year’s end. The last Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan was developed by the council in 2019. The council has not met since it was moved under the government’s administration.

Transparency International/Georgia, in its October 2020 report Corruption and Anti-Corruption Policy in Georgia: 2016-2020, noted the government annually approves national action plans to combat corruption. It reported some shortcomings, however, including ineffective investigations of cases of alleged high-level corruption. Although the law restricts gifts to public officials to a maximum of 5 percent of their annual salary, a loophole allowing unlimited gifts to public officials from their family members continued to be a source of concern for anticorruption watchdogs. In January, Transparency International/Georgia noted that the country’s anticorruption reforms did not progress.

As of March, Transparency International/Georgia listed 50 uninvestigated high-profile cases of corruption involving high-ranking public officials or persons associated with the ruling party.

Corruption: As of year’s end, 87 sitting or former public servants had been charged with corruption. This included 14 cases of fraud committed using official position, 10 cases of misappropriation or embezzlement using official position, eight cases of nonviolent misuse of official powers for personal gain, eight cases of nonviolent exceeding of official powers, one case of illegal participation in entrepreneurial activities while taking advantage of official position, 30 cases of bribery, and 16 cases of creating a fraudulent official document for personal gain.

Investigations remained open in two high-profile corruption cases involving two former ministers. Some observers considered the investigations politically motivated. The investigations lacked transparency, and authorities did not update the public on their progress.

As of December the Anticorruption Agency of the State Security Service detained 21 public servants at the local and central levels for taking bribes, including a member of Ambrolauri City Council from the Alliance of Patriots, Givi Kutsikidze, who, according to the State Security Service, demanded from a citizen a $140,000 bribe and took $30,000 as an advance payment for promised assistance in support of a construction permit in Tbilisi. The mayor of Borjomi, Levan Lipartia, and the chair of the City Council, Giorgi Gogichaishvili, were detained in February 2020 for taking bribes. In July, Lipartia was released from prison; Gogichaishvili continued to serve his term.

The trial of TBC Bank cofounders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, which began in 2019, continued. The case stemmed from bank transactions from 2008. Charges against the two men came just weeks after Khazaradze announced his intention to establish a civil movement. Khazaradze established the movement, called Lelo, which later became the Lelo political party. Authorities brought charges against Avtandil Tsereteli in 2019 for providing support to Khazaradze and Japaridze in the alleged money-laundering scheme. In 2020 a group of 20 NGOs, including Transparency International/Georgia, the Open Society Fund Georgia, and ISFED, said they considered the charges against all three men to be politically motivated, given the amount of time that had transpired. In April 2020 the public defender reported there was no evidence in the case files for the 2019 charge of money laundering in 2008.

Germany

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: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and 45 parliamentarians from 25 countries observed the country’s federal elections September 26 and considered them well run, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated without restriction or outside interference unless authorities deemed them a threat to the federal constitution. When federal authorities perceive such a threat, they may petition the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the party.

Under the law each political party receives federal public funding commensurate with the party’s election results in state, national, and European elections. Under the constitution, however, extremist parties who seek to undermine the constitution are not eligible for public funding. In 2019 the Bundesrat, Bundestag, and federal government filed a joint claim with the Federal Constitutional Court to exclude the right-wing extremist NPD from receiving state party financing, arguing that the NPD seeks to undermine the democratic order in the country. The case was pending as of December.

In NRW threats against local politicians increased dramatically. In 2020, 160 criminal offenses against local politicians were recorded in NRW, compared with 25 in 2019 and 43 and 44 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. According to the NRW Interior Ministry, these incidents were predominantly insults or defamation, but not physical assaults.

On May 3, in the widely reported “NSU 2.0” case, Hesse State Criminal Police arrested the local national Alexander M., age 53, on suspicion of sending dozens of threatening letters to prominent parliamentarians, women, and members of minority groups campaigning against extremism. According to prosecutors, the suspect had a criminal record, including “right-wing motivated offenses.” It remained unclear how Alexander M. obtained confidential personal information from police and government records used in the letters. Investigations by Frankfurt prosecutors continued as of October.

In July 2020 the Bavarian Ministries of Justice and the Interior joined forces to establish a comprehensive plan to protect local communal politicians from hate speech, appointing the country’s first Hate Speech Commissioner and contact persons in all 22 Bavarian prosecutors’ offices. In February the Bavarian Minister of Justice announced that, as a result, 1,648 investigations had been launched in 2020, with 102 convictions. During the year many investigations remained ongoing.

On July 30, the Munich Higher Regional Court convicted and sentenced Susanne G., a right-wing extremist alternative healer, to six years in prison for making threats, planning violent attacks, and other offenses. The extremist had components for a bomb in her possession when she was arrested in September 2020 and had targeted a mayor, a county official, a Turkish-Islamic community association, and a refugee aid organization.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Transgender persons complained that the time-consuming and costly nature of the country’s laws on gender changes limited their ability to participate in the political system (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). They also pointed out that this requirement limited the ability of transgender persons to be elected to public office, because only legal names may be used in official election records and on ballots. Persons with disabilities also faced some restrictions, although these were being reduced (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Within the Federal Cabinet, eight of 15 ministers are women, including the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and interior. In the parliament approximately 35 percent of the members are women.

On February 16, unknown suspects defaced an election poster of SPD candidate Aisha Fahir with a swastika in Karlsbad, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The police political crime unit took over the investigation, but the case remained unsolved.

In March, Tareq Alaows, the Greens candidate for the Bundestag in Dinslaken, NRW, ended his campaign, blaming online threats and racism. Alaows came to the country from Syria as a refugee.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In March the magazine Der Spiegel revealed that during the 2020 height of the COVID-19 pandemic, several members of the Bundestag and the Bavarian state parliament contacted the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of the Interior, and Bavarian state ministries on behalf of suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Some were accused of having received compensation in exchange for recommending certain PPE suppliers to government customers or lobbying ministries to procure from those suppliers. According to media reports, Bundestag members Georg Nuesslein of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Nikolaus Loebel of the Christian Democratic Union received 660,000 euros ($759,000) and 250,000 euros ($288,000), respectively, for such activities, and Alfred Sauter, a CSU member of the Bavarian state parliament, received 1.2 million euros ($1.38 million). In June the Federal Ministry of Health published a list of 40 members of the Bundestag who had contacted it on behalf of PPE suppliers; many stated they received no compensation and were acting on behalf of constituents. Anticorruption investigations continued as of September.

Ghana

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 periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Domestic and international observers assessed the December 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections to be transparent, inclusive, credible, and reflecting the will of the people. Some observers noted concerns regarding the misuse of incumbency, the lack of enforcement of regulations on campaign financing, and unequal access to state-owned media during the campaign. Authorities, media, and observers reported at least two killings by security forces, at least two deaths from civilian violence, as many as eight deaths in total, and several injuries in the Greater Accra, Bono East, and Northern Regions (see section 1.a.).

In separate lawsuits in August, six residents of the Techiman South constituency who suffered injuries, and a father whose son died, sued the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General, demanding $2.5 million dollars as compensation for security force violence during the 2020 elections. The six residents claimed they suffered physical injuries including gunshot wounds while they monitored the vote tabulation at the Techiman collation center. The suits also demanded an official investigation into security force killings and support for affected families. In March, two members of parliament from the NDC petitioned the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate election-related deaths caused by members of the NESTF, police, and the Ghana Armed Forces teams that provided security for the elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although not in the same numbers as men. Three women ran for president, and there was one female vice-presidential candidate from one of the two largest parties, the NDC. Women held fewer leadership positions than men, and women in political campaigns and in elected office faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that insults, concerns regarding physical safety, and overall negative societal attitudes toward female politicians hindered women from entering politics. Of the 275 members of the legislature, 40 were women, 20 each from the NDC and the ruling New Patriotic Party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, including recruitment into the security services. Since the first special prosecutor took office in 2018, no corruption case undertaken by that office resulted in a conviction. When the new special prosecutor took office in August, his staff included one investigator and one prosecutor, both seconded from other offices.

The government took steps to implement laws intended to foster more transparency and accountability in public affairs. In July 2020 authorities commissioned the Right to Information (RTI) secretariat to provide support to RTI personnel in the public sector; however, some civil society organizations stated the government had not made sufficient progress implementing the law.

The country continued use of the national anticorruption online reporting dashboard, for the coordination of all anticorruption efforts of various governmental bodies.

Corruption: A June report by the auditor-general revealed widespread corruption and waste of public funds remained pervasive problems. For example, the honorary consul general and the Ghanaian consulate in Washington D.C. could not account for visa fees totaling $355,000. The Free Senior High School Secretariat misspent more than $3.16 million. A former minister of tourism retained three official vehicles for personal use after leaving office. The report concluded that corrupt practices resulted in $340 million of financial mismanagement, including misapplication and misappropriation of funds, theft, and procurement mismanagement.

On August 31, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development released highlights from a survey conducted between May 23 and June 3. Less than 30 percent of respondents were optimistic regarding the government’s ability to fight corruption. Approximately one-half were confident in the government’s ability to uphold the rule of law, 53 percent believed the government did not adequately protect financial resources and 62 percent doubted government efforts to address corruption and official impunity. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer published in 2019 found 59 percent of respondents claimed there was rampant corruption in the Ghana Police Service, more so than any other government institution.

Greece

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 2019 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. As a result of the elections, the New Democracy Party gained a majority of the parliamentary seats and party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the country’s prime minister, succeeding a coalition of SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (independent Greeks) parties, headed by then prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and they did participate. In the government cabinet, 10 of 57 (approximately 18 percent) ministers and deputy ministers were women. Legislation passed in 2019 requires a minimum of 40 percent distribution of male and female candidates in local, regional, national, and European Parliament elections. During the year women held 22 percent of elected seats in the national legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On July 14, parliament ordered the prosecution of former minister of digital policy, telecommunications, and media Nikos Pappas on charges of “repeated and continuous breach of duty” for manipulating and orchestrating the auction of a television channel license to a businessman in return for favorable media coverage.

Grenada

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 the most recent general elections, held in 2018, the New National Party won all 15 seats in the House of Representatives, defeating the largest opposing party, the National Democratic Congress. The Organization of American States observer mission deemed the elections generally free and fair. There were no reports of abuses or irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated allegations by the political opposition and some members of media regarding government corruption during the year, but none proved credible.

Corruption: There were no cases of government corruption or credible allegations of government corruption during the year.

Guatemala

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Organization of American States and other international observers found some irregularities in the electoral process for the last national elections in 2019, but none was significant enough to discredit the legitimacy and validity of the elections. President Alejandro Giammattei and the elected congressional deputies took office in January 2020 without disturbance. The Public Ministry continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections, including a case against Sandra Torres and the National Unity of Hope Party. A substitute judge in High-Risk Court A granted Sandra Torres house arrest during her pretrial detention; on August 30, a three-judge appellate panel granted her permission to participate in political activities with her party while under house arrest.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did, to an extent, participate. Traditional and cultural practices, discrimination, institutional bias, and difficulty traveling to polling places in rural areas, however, limited participation of women and members of indigenous groups. There were two women serving in the 13-member cabinet, 31 in the 160-member congress, and nine among the 340 municipal mayors. While the indigenous population constituted an estimated 44 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Statistics, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous member on the Constitutional Court and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 16 indigenous members of congress, of whom four were women. Indigenous individuals composed approximately one-fourth (90 of 340) of the mayoral seats elected in 2019.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite numerous allegations of corruption among the legislative and executive branches of the government, few high-profile cases were prosecuted during the year, and anticorruption efforts within the judiciary stalled. Prominent anticorruption prosecutors were fired or removed from significant cases, and corrupt actors threatened independent judges by filing complaints based on spurious charges to strip them of immunity to prosecution.

On July 23, Attorney General Porras abruptly fired the head of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, Juan Francisco Sandoval. On the evening of July 23, Sandoval fled the country after he held a press conference at the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, in which he implicated several sitting and former government officials in corruption cases. Over the following weeks, protesters demonstrated in support of Sandoval and called for the attorney general’s removal. On September 2, a criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Sandoval for the crimes of obstruction of justice and failure in performance of official duties. On November 30, the Public Ministry announced a new set of charges against Sandoval including abuse of authority, fraud, and conspiracy related to deals Sandoval allegedly made with cooperating witnesses in corruption cases. As of December 16, Sandoval remained out of the country.

Threats against independent judges also posed a threat to anticorruption efforts. Judges who presided over high-profile criminal cases faced continued efforts to strip them of their immunity, which would expose them to potential prosecution and retaliation for their judicial rulings.

The Presidential Commission Against Corruption serves the administrative function of introducing reforms that promote transparency, but it lacked both the resources and the mandate to actively investigate corruption cases. During the year civil society representatives criticized the commission for a perceived lack of independence.

Corruption: As of November former communications minister Jose Luis Benito remained a fugitive, and authorities requested an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest. In October 2020 the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity seized approximately 122 million quetzals ($15.9 million) in cash found in 22 suitcases inside Benito’s home in the city of Antigua, and the Public Ministry subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Benito on charges of money laundering.

On May 12, the special prosecutor against impunity presented formal charges against former member of congress Alejandro Sinibaldi in the Transurbano case. Sinibaldi had originally been expected to cooperate as a witness in the prosecution of the case but was eventually formally charged with money laundering and other crimes. The Transurbano case involving former president Alvaro Colom, 10 of his ministers, and former chief of staff Gustavo Alejos Cambara, involved a 2008 agreement signed by the ministers that allowed the urban bus company to form anonymous corporations and begin siphoning funds from a prepaid fare program. Sinibaldi was previously implicated in the Odebrecht case, involving bribes allegedly paid to himself and former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon; the Construction and Corruption case, in which Sinibaldi was accused of money laundering and paying bribes while communications minister from 2012 to 2014; and a case of alleged illegal campaign financing in 2011.

The case known as Cooptation of the State continued against former president Otto Perez Molina, former vice president Roxana Baldetti and her chief of staff Juan Carlos Monzon, and dozens of coconspirators for illegal campaign financing, money laundering, and illegal payments for public contracts, among other charges. Several injunctions filed by the multiple defendants continued to stall the case. On May 19, the government dropped some of the charges levied against Perez Molina, including one linked to money laundering. On the same day, in a move that was widely criticized by domestic and international civil society, the government arrested Juan Francisco Solorzano Foppa, a former investigator on the original case that brought Perez Molina’s case to trial, and Anibal Arguello, a lawyer who had worked for the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and who was a witness in the main case against Perez Molina. As of December both Foppa and Arguello remained under house arrest.

Guinea

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Prior to September 5, the constitution and law provided citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but both the Conde government and CNRD transition authorities abridged this right. The Transitional Charter calls for free and fair local and national elections after the creation of the National Transition Council to determine the elections timeline and draft the constitution. As of December the council had not been formed. On September 5, Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya and military special forces arrested President Alpha Conde and seized power through a coup d’etat.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following the October 2020 presidential election, and an unsuccessful legal challenge from opposition presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, in November 2020 the Constitutional Court certified that President Conde won re-election with 59.5 percent of the vote. Diallo claimed victory and called on his supporters to protest the election results. Government security forces violently dispersed protesters and surrounded Diallo’s home.

Although election day proceeded relatively smoothly, international and domestic observers raised concerns regarding unresolved voter roll problems, widespread pre- and postelection violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, the lack of transparency in vote tabulation, insecure ballot transportation, and inconsistencies between the announced results and tally sheet results from polling stations.

The number of persons injured and killed during the pre- and postelection violence was widely disputed between the government and opposition groups. Government officials claimed at least 50 persons were killed, while the opposition published a list of 46 killed and estimated at least 200 persons were injured during the violence. Amnesty International reported 400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements. Parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity. The Conde government in some cases delayed opposition party registration. As of September 5, the government continued to deny accreditation to Bloc for Change in Guinea, despite a ruling by the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and to the Liberal Democratic Movement, despite an injunction by the Supreme Court in January to accredit the party. The government was accused of conditioning both parties’ accreditation on their commitment not to oppose the government or join the political opposition.

In October 2020 the government closed the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea’s main political party office in Conakry on the grounds of COVID-19 public health measures and national security, preventing the party from using the space for meetings and assemblies. The party appealed to the courts to reopen their office, but their appeals were rejected. The CNRD reopened the premises on September 6.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were multiple allegations during the year of corrupt practices by public officials that went unpunished.

Corruption: Conde administration authorities prosecuted very few cases, and even fewer resulted in convictions. Allegations of corruption ranged from low-level functionaries and managers of state enterprises to ministers and the presidency. Officials allegedly diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency. Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

In November 2020 several local media sources published a story implicating the minister of technical education and vocational training, Zenab Nabaya Drame, in the embezzlement of approximately GNF 219 billion ($22.3 million) as minister and while serving in former positions as finance director in the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. According to media, Drame was responsible for approximately GNF 100 billion ($10.2 million) in unjustified expenses during her tenure as Ministry of Health finance director; she reportedly embezzled GNF 56 billion ($5.71 million) during her time at the Ministry of Agriculture; while as minister of technical education and vocational training she allegedly siphoned GNF 35 billion ($3.57 million) from a program to build new vocational training facilities in Upper Guinea and the Forest Region that were never built and overcharged GNF 28 billion ($2.86 million) to administer nationwide school exams. Drame sued the journalists for defamation but dropped her suit in February due to the corruption investigation, which as of December was pending (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). In January authorities announced the Kaloum Court of First Instance would hear the corruption case, but judicial proceedings did not move forward before the September 5 coup d’etat.

Guinea-Bissau

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 first round of the presidential election took place in November 2019. The top two finishers from the first round, Domingos Simoes Pereira and Umaro Sissoco Embalo, met in a runoff election in December 2019. The National Election Commission declared Sissoco the winner. International observers characterized the election as free, fair, and transparent. The opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea Cape Verde appealed, disputing the fairness and accuracy of the results. An institutional stalemate ensued, as the Supreme Court of Justice did not ratify the electoral results despite the National Election Commission declaring Sissoco the winner. Sissoco assumed the presidency in February 2020 after an unofficial inauguration and transfer of power from the previous president, Jose Mario Vaz. In support of Sissoco, the military temporarily occupied several government institutions, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the national broadcast media. In April 2020, ECOWAS recognized Sissoco as the winner of the 2019 presidential elections. In September 2020 the Supreme Court of Justice dismissed the opposition’s appeal disputing the election results. The dismissal ended an eight-month judicial process in which the opposition party’s legal challenges bounced between the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Elections Committee.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed views about traditional gender roles in some parts of the country, particularly in rural areas, may have limited the political participation of women compared with men.

During 2019 legislative elections, no political party complied with the 2018 gender-parity law, which requires 36 percent of candidates be women. There were 14 women in the 102-member National Assembly, just as there were in the prior legislature. As of December the country’s 32-member cabinet included seven women, including three ministers and four state secretaries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties of one month to 10 years in prison for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches and on all levels of government engaged in corrupt and nontransparent practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Members of the military and civilian administration reportedly trafficked in drugs and assisted international drug cartels by providing access to the country and its transportation infrastructure. Antonio Indjai, the former head of the armed forces, continued to circulate freely in the country. A fugitive still subject to a 2012 UN travel ban for his involvement in a successful 2012 coup d’etat, the 61-year-old Indjai was purported to retain significant influence within the military. President Sissoco publicly refused to honor a foreign government’s request to extradite Indjai on drug trafficking charge, asserting Guinea-Bissau would try him if he were found to have committed crimes on Bissau-Guinean soil.

In February 2020 Antonio Indjai was seen participating in the inauguration of Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam along with President Sissoco and other senior military officials.

In September 2020 the Judicial Police arrested the former migration services director for interference in a drug raid in the International Airport Osvaldo Vieira in March 2020. He remained at home awaiting trial.

The government did not prosecute any cases of officials involved in drug trafficking during the year.

Some military and civilian authorities were also complicit in trafficking in illegally cut timber. In November 2020 the Judicial Police seized a large quantity of logs cut illegally in the country’s national forest. The timber had been cut by a company in which Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam allegedly had financial interests. In December 2020 the Judicial Police requested that the Prosecutor’s Office question the prime minister regarding his participation in illegal logging and sale of timber. The interior minister and National Guard commander were also reportedly under investigation. At year’s end, the Prosecutor’s Office had not filed charges.

Guyana

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 also take place within indigenous communities, where members elect indigenous leaders every 33 to 36 months.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and regional elections were held on March 2, 2020, triggered by a no-confidence vote in December 2018 against the ruling A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition government and following several rounds of litigation initiated by both APNU+AFC and the then opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). Claims of electoral fraud and the APNU+AFC coalition’s refusal to accept its loss of the elections led to a national recount and litigation in the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s court of final instance. The PPP/C won by a margin of 15,000 votes, and Mohamed Irfaan Ali of the PPP/C was installed as president on August 2, 2020. The general elections resulted in the return of the PPP/C to government after a five-year hiatus from a previous 23-year administration. International observers concluded the March 2020 national and regional elections were free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires that one-third of each list of candidates be women; parties standing for the 2020 elections adhered to the law and the Guyana Elections Commission enforced this requirement.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, and administration officials investigated these reports. There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels and all branches of government, including the police and judiciary.

Corruption: Corruption by police officers was frequent. The government prosecuted members of the police force during the year. In April authorities arrested 11 police officers and charged them with multiple counts of fraud, conspiracy, and larceny for inflating the costs of meal procurement for police officers and keeping the difference. On October 27, two of those charged were released, and the judicial proceedings for the others were ongoing.

Haiti

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. Due to a long-running political impasse, however, national elections scheduled for 2019 and 2021 were delayed. Parliament was unable to function, with the upper house containing only 10 senators – too few to constitute a quorum – and the lower house left empty. A new president was originally scheduled to take office in February 2022; however, as of December it was unclear when this would occur. Ariel Henry, whom President Moise designated as prime minister three days before the president’s assassination, served as head of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative, municipal, and presidential elections were last held in 2016. While there were isolated allegations of voter fraud, the elections were generally regarded as credible by international and domestic observers. Although voter turnout was low, citizens generally accepted the elections, and public demonstrations against the election results were muted compared with previous years. Presidential, legislative, and local elections scheduled for the year did not take place due to problems in logistics and in reaching a political accord. In October Prime Minister Henry dissolved the provisional electoral council installed by President Moise in 2020, a body viewed as lacking credibility by civil society and political actors, thus increasing the likelihood of an eventual consensus political accord. The council is the country’s electoral commission and has the responsibility of organizing presidential and parliamentary elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, but social norms and the threat of electoral violence discouraged women from voting and, to a much greater extent, from running for office. During the 2016 national elections, four of 58 approved presidential candidates were women, 23 of 209 senatorial candidates were women, and 129 of 1,621 candidates for deputy were women. The constitution requires that at least 30 percent of elected officials be women, but the most recent legislative session had only four female deputies and one senator, a decrease of one female deputy from the prior legislative session. Mayoral elections are organized around panels of three that are required by law to include at least one woman. While they were rarely the principal local leaders, women made up 30 percent of local officials.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law criminalizes a wide variety of acts of corruption by officials, including illicit enrichment, bribery, embezzlement, illegal procurement, insider trading, influence peddling, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and a perception of impunity for abusers. The judicial branch investigated several cases of corruption during the year, but there were no prosecutions. The constitution mandates the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and members of parliament accused of corruption, but the body had never done so. The government’s previous anticorruption strategy expired in 2019, and as of October there was no formal anticorruption strategy.

Corruption: There were many reports of widespread corruption associated with the Petro Caribe petroleum importation program, a strategic oil alliance signed with Venezuela in 2006 under which Haiti was able to save U.S. dollar reserves, borrowing fuel from its oil-rich neighbor and deferring payment for up to 25 years. The agreement mandated the government of Haiti to use any money saved for the development of the economy and social programs. Instead, between two billion dollars (equivalent to almost a quarter of the country’s total economy for 2017) and six billion dollars went missing, and citizens saw few of the promised benefits, according to protesters and local media. The Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes reported that more than two billion dollars in Petro Caribe funds had been embezzled or wasted in worthless projects. On June 26, Investigative Judge Ramoncite Accime announced his decision to suspend the investigation indefinitely and unfreeze the defendants’ assets due to what he termed a lack of evidence. Judge Accime also ordered the release of the frozen assets of six businesses, including President Moise’s energy company Comphener, Inc. Despite these actions, however, the judge did not explicitly absolve the defendants of guilt.

On April 26, the FJKL published a report on HNP’s financial mismanagement between 2016 and 2019, based on a decision rendered on March 25 by the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes. According to the FJKL, the poor management of HNP finances posed a danger to public security by limiting the organization’s operational capacity. The FJKL also highlighted errors in the High Court’s judgments and recommended strengthening the institution, which plays a fundamental role in the fight against corruption.

Honduras

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the right to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The law does not permit active members of the military or civilian security forces to vote. The constitution prohibits practicing clergy from running for office or participating in political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE Party won a four-year presidential term in elections that were generally considered free, fair, and transparent. Some NGOs reported irregularities, including late delivery of technology needed to transmit results, late opening of the polls, poll workers with varying degrees of preparation and knowledge of the electoral law and processes, and lack of transparency in campaign financing. International observers acknowledged some of these irregularities but reported they were not systematic and not widespread enough to affect the outcome of the presidential election. Observers noted several significant improvements in transparency procedures, including electoral reforms, an updated voter registry and new national identification cards, and new technology that included a biometric verification system and a preliminary results transmission system.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. A revision to the penal code that entered into force in June 2020 broadly reduces criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Inconsistent, retroactive implementation of provisions of the revised code led to logjams in the legal system and impunity for some of the accused. Backsliding occurred in cases brought during the four-year mandate of the OAS Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras; several of its cases were dismissed or postponed as courts heard appeals based on the new code. The government took some steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging senior officials on COVID-related procurement corruption. The government launched a new Ministry of Transparency in November 2020 to address some of these concerns. Anticorruption efforts remained an area of concern, as did the government’s ability to protect justice-sector officials, such as prosecutors and judges. Civil society continued to criticize the law for classification of documents related to security and national defense, saying it limited transparency and allowed officials to use the classification of documents to obscure wrongdoing.

Corruption: The new trial of former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo on charges of fraud and misappropriation of public funds, originally set to commence in March, was twice delayed for medical reasons. Periodic medical evaluations had not found Lobo healthy enough to proceed. Her most recent evaluation was in August, and the court declared her fit to stand trial in September. Her retrial was scheduled for February 2022.

Marco Bogran, former director of INVEST-H, the Honduran government entity tasked with providing coronavirus pandemic relief contracts to private firms, remained in pretrial detention awaiting his next court appearance, scheduled for January 31, 2022. Bogran was arrested in October 2020 on two corruption charges for embezzling an estimated 1.14 billion lempiras ($47 million) in public funds and funneling a contract for mobile hospitals to his uncle, Napoleon Corrales. He was arrested again in April for separate but related charges.

In January the government funded the opening of a UN Office of Drugs and Crime office to begin a government transparency project and support the drafting of the country’s first national anticorruption strategy.

Hong Kong

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee March decision to overhaul the SAR’s electoral system further limited this ability, in contradiction to provisions in the Basic Law that describe the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council via universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim.”

Voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. PRC central authorities made broad changes to the electoral system, thereby ensuring that only candidates vetted and approved by Beijing would be allowed to hold office at any level.

September 19 elections for seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC), the first after the PRC’s overhaul of the SAR’s political system in March, by design produced a near unanimous sweep for pro-Beijing “patriots.” More than 1,100 of the 1,500 seats in the expanded CEEC were predetermined and not up for election. For the few competitive seats, regulations limited the franchise and moved the SAR farther from the one-person, one-vote principle. Only one nominally independent candidate was elected to any of those seats. Although the CEEC was historically considered a “closed circle election,” the September contest limited the number of voters eligible to cast ballots to fewer than 5,000 individuals, 97 percent smaller than the previous CEEC election in 2016. Following Beijing-imposed changes to the electoral system, all candidates for the Legislative Council are required to pass through a labyrinthine application process for vetting their “patriotic” bona fides. Per the new law, voters directly elect 20 of the expanded Legislative Council’s 90 seats, or 22 percent; in contrast, in the 2016 Legislative Council election, voters directly elected 40 of the 70 seats (57 percent). Forty seats are selected by the CEEC directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” for various economic and social sectors. In the December 19 Legislative Council elections, pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats. None of the major prodemocracy parties fielded any candidates.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to the National People’s Congress and has approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the legislature are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the legislative agenda, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 19, the SAR held elections for the expanded Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats in the geographical constituencies. Only one nonestablishment moderate won a seat in the social welfare constituency. The SAR government had earlier postponed the election originally scheduled for September 2020 citing COVID-19 concerns, a decision seen by the prodemocracy opposition as an attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates. Several activists also called on voters to boycott the election, arguing it was a sham election. About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, a record low turnout rate of 30.2 percent. Approximately 2 percent of ballots cast were blank or otherwise invalid, a record high. In contrast the 2016 election had a turnout rate of 58.3 percent. In 2017 the 1,194-member CEEC, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive.

In September the SAR held elections for the CEEC, which elected 40 members of the Legislative Council in December and is scheduled to elect the chief executive in March 2022. Approximately 75 percent of the CEEC seats were filled by ex officio holders of various government positions, through nominations by Beijing-controlled bodies, or by uncontested candidates. Only one candidate not explicitly aligned with either the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp won a seat. A total of 4,380 ballots were cast compared with more than 250,000 ballots in the 2016 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the imposition of the NSL, numerous leaders of prodemocracy political parties, protest organizing groups, and civil society organizations have been arrested for their involvement in nonviolent political activities. For example, in January, 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists, including former members of the Legislative Council and elected local District Council members, were arrested under the NSL for their involvement in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. No political party was subjected to an outright ban, but many prodemocracy political parties and organizations disbanded because of pressure from SAR authorities or concern they or their members would be subjected to political repression.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation requiring all elected members of local District Councils to swear loyalty oaths to Beijing. Many activists argued the move was designed to break the opposition pan-democratic camp’s hold over the District Councils, the SAR’s only representative bodies elected solely through universal suffrage, after pan-democratic politicians won 388 of 479 seats in the councils in 2019 local elections and won overall control over 17 of the 18 councils. After passage of the legislation, anonymous SAR officials were cited in local media as saying that District Council members who took the loyalty oath and were subsequently disqualified might be required to reimburse the SAR for up to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars in salary and expenses. More than 260 District Council members resigned in response. Subsequently, SAR authorities administered loyalty oaths to the remaining District Council members in September and October, then disqualified 49 pan-democratic District Council members without the possibility of appeal. The disqualified members are ineligible to run for election for five years.

In August, the chief secretary ruled that Cheng Chung-tai, one of two remaining Legislative Council members who did not caucus with the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp, was ineligible to serve on the CEEC. Cheng was subsequently disqualified from his legislative seat as well, although the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had praised him in 2020 for remaining in the legislature after the disqualifications and resignations of nearly all other pan-democratic representatives. In September Cheng announced the dissolution of his political party, Civic Passion.

Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision in March created a labyrinthine nomination and vetting process for all candidates for political office designed to ensure “loyalty” to Beijing, and after the resignation and disqualification of hundreds of opposition District Council members, many opposition politicians and groups announced that they would not field candidates in the December Legislative Council elections. For example, the Democratic Party, the SAR’s largest opposition party, announced in October that none of its members had received sufficient nominations from within the party to run.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following December Legislative Council elections, there were 17 women Legislative Council members (approximately 19 percent). In 2017 Carrie Lam was selected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against members of historically marginalized or ethnic minority groups running for electoral office or serving as electoral monitors. There were, however, no members of ethnic minority groups in the Legislative Council, and members of such groups reported they considered themselves unrepresented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were, however, reports of government corruption and a growing culture of impunity from prosecution for police and security sector officials.

Corruption: Opposition activists claimed that three senior government officials were treated leniently after attending a group dinner in violation of social distancing regulations in March. The Department of Justice cleared a senior police official in the National Security Department of illegal misconduct for visiting an unlicensed massage parlor where illegal sex services were reportedly being offered, although six women were arrested and four ultimately charged from the same police raid. The officer was subsequently reassigned to lead the police force personnel and training department.

Hungary

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National elections were held in 2018 under a single-round national system to elect 199 members of parliament. The elections resulted in the ruling parties gaining a third consecutive two-thirds supermajority in parliament, receiving 49 percent of party-list votes while winning 91 of the country’s 106 single-member districts, decided by a first-past-the-post system.

Nationwide municipal elections were held in 2019 under a single-round national system to elect local council representatives, mayors, and ethnic minority self-government members. With 48.6 percent turnout, the elections resulted in governing Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) candidates retaining most mayoral positions in smaller towns and villages, and the opposition capturing the mayoral seats of Budapest, 14 of the capital’s 23 districts, and 11 of the country’s 23 county seats. Observers suggested the relative success of the opposition resulted from the nomination of a single opposition candidate running against Fidesz-KDNP in most key races. Domestic observers noted the lack of changes to the electoral and media environment and referenced the findings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission deployed to the country in 2018 (see below).

A mission representing the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observed the 2018 national elections. In its final report on the elections, the mission characterized the election as “at odds with OSCE commitments” and concluded that a “pervasive overlap between state and ruling-party resources” undermined contestants’ ability “to compete on an equal basis.”

The ODIHR election observation mission report highlighted that despite the “large number of contestants, most did not actively campaign, ostensibly registering to benefit from public campaign-finance entitlements or to dilute the vote in tightly contested races.” The report called attention to the lack of a “periodic review of constituency boundaries in a transparent, impartial, and inclusive manner by an independent body.” No such review was performed during the year.

In October 2020 by-elections for a parliamentary seat vacated by the death of a Fidesz-KDNP member were held. The winner of the by-election, Zsofia Koncz (Fidesz-KDNP and the daughter of the member who passed away), was criticized by watchdogs and media outlets for spending more on social media alone (5.6 million forints) during her campaign than permitted by law for both online and offline campaign activity (five million forints, total). A subsequent investigation by the SAO found no campaign spending violations. In response to a media inquiry, the SAO noted, however, that advertisements on social media do not count as political advertisements. The SAO stated that despite calls from the body, no political party has been willing to address this standing concern.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ODIHR report on the 2018 elections noted several problems with media influence that “undermined the level playing field for campaigning and raised questions with regard to the abuse of administrative resources and the blurring of the line between state governing and party campaigning, which is at odds with OSCE commitments.” The report also noted campaign finance laws limited the transparency and accountability of political parties.

Citizens living abroad but having permanent residency in the country were required to appear in person at embassies or consulates to vote, while citizens residing abroad could vote by mail, but only for party lists. ODIHR election observers noted that the practice of applying different procedures to register and vote depending on whether a person had a permanent address in the country “challenged the principle of equal suffrage.”

In December 2020 parliament modified the electoral law, stipulating that any party wishing to put forward a national party list must nominate candidates in at least 71 (up from the previous 27) of the 106 individual parliamentary constituencies. The government claimed the change was necessary to prevent parties from running in an election solely to benefit from state-provided campaign funding. Independent observers criticized the change, claiming it raised additional obstacles in the cooperation of opposition parties seeking to challenge the ruling coalition in the 2022 parliamentary election.

Observers noted that many of the decrees and legislation enacted during the state of emergency following the outbreak of COVID-19, including imposing prison time for “scaremongering” under a special legal order and measures critics stated were unrelated to the pandemic, remained on the books after the state of emergency was lifted. On February 22, the ruling Fidesz-KDNP majority, with no opposition votes, passed in parliament an additional 90-day extension of the emergency government decrees issued under the state of emergency. Parliament passed three other bills on May 18, September 27, and December 14, extending the government’s state of emergency powers until October, January 2022, and June 2022 respectively, also with no opposition support. Justifying their votes against the extension, opposition members claimed that the government misused the previous emergency authorization parliament granted in November 2020 with opposition support. The repeated extensions resulted in the government having uninterrupted state of emergency powers from November 2020.

Opposition activists accused the government of selectively imposing economically damaging measures on opposition-led cities and districts. Following similar measures enacted in 2020, in June the central government issued a decree establishing a “special economic zone” for industrial parks located adjacent to the city of Dunaujvaros. The measure effectively deprived the opposition-led local government of approximately 684 million forints ($1.7 million) in tax revenue the first year alone.

A February 28 government resolution distributed approximately $4 million in development and operational subsidies among 12 independent or Fidesz-led local governments across the country. No opposition-led local council was included. One of the highest allotments, 225 million forints ($750,000), went to Budapest’s district 12, run by prominent Fidesz mayor Zoltan Pokorni, for supporting local council development work. Budapest’s downtown district, also Fidesz-run, was granted 91 million forints ($303,000) for a communications program targeting the elderly.

According to a report by independent media published in March, the government disproportionately distributed EU financial subsidies intended to aid poorer regions to wealthier Fidesz-run municipalities. Following the 2019 local elections in which opposition parties won control of several municipalities, those led by Fidesz (often some of the wealthiest) received 45,000 forints ($150) per capita in EU funding compared with $60 per capita allocated to seven opposition-led municipalities representing a similar population size. The poorest, Salgotarjan, led by the opposition, received only 20 million forints ($65,000) in subsidies, in contrast with the richest, Fidesz-run Szekesfehervar, which received more than 12 billion forints ($39 million). The six local municipalities that received the highest support (36.3 billion forints or $118 million combined) were all controlled by Fidesz, while the seven opposition-run jurisdictions received 13.6 billion forints ($44 million). Observers claimed the figures demonstrated how the government used EU development funds to reward its allies, despite EU safeguards to prevent political bias.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of marginalized groups including persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+, and Romani persons in the political process. While no data were collected on individuals’ sexual orientation or ethnicity, representation of women in public life was very low. The ODIHR report on the 2018 elections noted, “Women are underrepresented in political life and there are no legal requirements to promote gender equality in elections.” Following the elections, women constituted 12.5 percent of members of parliament. As of August the 15-member cabinet included three women, and 13 percent of subcabinet-level government state secretaries were women, a figure that has remained relatively constant across Fidesz-KDNP administrations since 2010. As of August women constituted approximately 20 percent of the more than 270 candidates registered in the opposition primaries.

The electoral system provides 13 recognized national minorities the possibility of registering for a separate minority voting process in parliamentary elections, by which they vote on the minority candidate list instead of the party list. While all 13 national minorities registered candidate lists in the 2018 elections, only one – the German minority – obtained enough votes to win a minority seat in parliament. National minorities that did not win a seat were represented in parliament by nonvoting spokespersons whose competence was limited to discussing minority matters. Regarding the 2018 election campaign, the ODIHR stated it was informed of several instances where pressure was put on Romani voters not to register as minority voters and instead to vote for national lists. Due to privacy laws regarding ethnicity, no official statistics were available on the number of members of a minority who were in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, few such cases were filed or prosecuted during the year. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement or apply these laws effectively and that officials and those with close government connections often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

In its July 20 Rule of Law Report, the European Commission found deficiencies in the country’s anticorruption policies and noted that the government did not sufficiently address clientelism, nepotism, and favoritism, noting specifically that although “some new high-level corruption cases involving politicians were opened since 2020, the track record of investigations of allegations concerning high-level officials and their immediate circle remains limited.” The report also stressed that, similar to the previous year’s report, “deficient independent control mechanisms and close interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption.” The report noted a lack of transparency in political party financing, asset disclosure, and lobbying.

On April 27, parliament passed several legislative proposals establishing 32 “public interest asset management foundations” for the purpose of independently managing educational, cultural, health care, agricultural, and historical activities traditionally administered by the state. These asset management foundations took over the administration of most of the country’s higher education institutions and collectively received billions of dollars in state assets, including land, real estate properties, businesses, and corporate shares, in addition to annual state funding. Transparency watchdogs and opposition parties criticized the privatization of universities and the transfer of state assets and warned that most board members of the created foundations were linked to the government or to the ruling party. Critics asserted that the foundations enabled the channeling of public funds and assets as well as taxpayers’ money to government-aligned businesses and oligarchs. The ninth amendment of the constitution passed in December 2020 requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority to amend regulations governing the creation and management of asset management foundations, essentially rendering the privatization of assets irreversible even in the event of a change of government, critics warned.

Corruption: Anticorruption NGOs alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. In an August 2 research paper, the Corruption Research Center Budapest stated that the overall share of EU-funded public contracts won by construction companies with close links to the government increased from 22 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2020.

In its 2020 annual report released on June 10, the European antifraud office (OLAF) found 32 cases of potential fraud in the country associated with EU development funds received between 2016 and 2020. OLAF recommended that the government repay 2.2 percent of the funds it received during the 2016-20 period. Observers noted that OLAF’s limited resources allowed it to review only a fraction of the tens of thousands of EU cases in which EU funds were disbursed to member states.

On July 20, EU justice commissioner Reynders stated the European Commission would not back the country’s $8.5 billion COVID Recovery Plan until the government implemented judicial reforms and provided adequate assurances that corruption cases uncovered by OLAF were properly investigated. Reynders noted Hungary continued to resist accepting and implementing the European Commission’s recommendations made in country specific reports and pledged that the commission would again ask “Hungary to join the European Prosecutor’s Office, as without that, we cannot be sure of adequate protection against fraud and corruption.” On November 18, the European Commission sent a letter to the government warning that concerns regarding judicial independence, corruption, and deficiencies in public procurements could pose a risk to the EU’s financial interests. The European Commission asked the government to provide information regarding corruption concerns related to specific EU funded projects, recipients of EU agricultural subsidies, and conflict of interests in the boards of public interest foundations. At year’s end the European Commission had not approved the country’s COVID Recovery Plan, due to the plan’s shortcomings in dealing with transparency and judicial independence concerns.

On December 7, the Chief Prosecution Office stated it suspected deputy justice minister and Fidesz member of parliament Pal Volner of accepting bribes and abusing his official position for financial advantage. Volner resigned from his ministry position on the same day and on December 14, parliament lifted his right to immunity from prosecution. On December 15, prosecutors questioned him, but he was not put into pretrial detention. He retained his seat in parliament.

In Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index released on January 28, Hungary retained a score of 44 of a possible 100; in 2012 its score was 55.

Iceland

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 September 25 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair, but procedural issues in one constituency led to a recount and change of election outcome. In June 2020 voters re-elected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election.

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats are constituency seats, while another nine are supplementary seats. Parties must exceed the 5 percent threshold nationally to be eligible for a supplemental seat. The number of supplementary mandates in each of the six constituencies is dictated by law. The supplementary seats are distributed to candidates who received the most votes but failed to win a constituency mandate.

Due to a difference of only 10 votes between two parties, both of which were eligible to receive the supplemental seat in the Northwest constituency, the regional electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. Party representatives raised concerns about the legality of the commission initiating a recount and the safekeeping of the ballots. The ballot boxes had not been sealed but were locked in the room where counting took place. The updated results following the recount did not affect the overall number of seats won by each party, but they shifted which supplemental seats each party won. There were no credible reports of political interference or corruption, but the legal process through the Parliamentary Credentials Committee remained pending. The regional electoral commission in the Southern constituency, at the request of several government and opposition parties, initiated a recount, but it found no discrepancies and did not impact the outcome.

The current parliament includes 33 men and 30 women.

Voters re-elected the incumbent president in elections in 2020 that were considered free and fair. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Justice authorized candidates to collect candidacy petitions electronically.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

India

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: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Indonesia

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 April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law on political parties mandates that women comprise a minimum of 30 percent of the founding membership of a new political party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but government efforts to enforce the law were insufficient. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Despite the arrest and conviction of many high-profile and high-ranking officials, including the former ministers of maritime and social affairs, there was a widespread perception that corruption remained endemic. NGOs claimed that endemic corruption was one cause for human rights abuses, with moneyed interests using corrupt government officials to harass and intimidate activists and groups that impeded their businesses.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, national police, the armed forces’ Special Economics Crime Unit, and the Attorney General’s Office may all investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Coordination between these offices, however, was inconsistent and coordination with the armed forces unit was nonexistent. The Corruption Eradication Commission does not have authority to investigate members of the military, nor does it have jurisdiction in cases where state losses are valued at less than IDR one billion ($70,000).

Many NGOs and activists maintained that the Corruption Eradication Commission’s ability to investigate corruption was limited because its supervisory body was selected and appointed by the president and because the commission was part of the executive branch. Commission investigators were sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked because of their work.

On May 5, the Corruption Eradication Commission conducted a civics exam for all commission employees as part of a legally mandated transition process to convert commission staff to regular civil service status. Seventy-five employees failed the test, including prominent investigators who had criticized the commission’s leadership and 2019 amendments to the commission’s statute and who were involved in many high-profile investigations, including those of two ministers (see below). On July 15, the national ombudsman concluded the exam was improperly administered and that the commission lacked the legal standing to compel employees to take the exam. NGOs and media reported that the test was a tactic to remove specific investigators, including Novel Baswedan, a prominent investigator who had led a case resulting in the imprisonment of the speaker of the House of Representatives and who had been injured in an acid attack perpetrated by two police officers. On September 30, the commission dismissed 57 of the 75 who failed the test.

On August 30, the commission’s supervisory board determined that the commission Deputy Chairperson Lili Pintauli Siregar was guilty of an ethics violation in her handling of a bribery case involving the mayor of Tanjung Balai, Muhammad Syahrial. The board determined Siregar had inappropriate contact with the subject of an investigation for her own personal benefit and imposed a one-year, 40 percent pay reduction for Siregar for the infraction.

Corruption: The Corruption Eradication Commission investigated and prosecuted officials suspected of corruption at all levels of government. Several high-profile corruption cases involved large-scale government procurement or construction programs and implicated legislators, governors, regents, judges, police, and civil servants. In 2020 the commission recovered state assets worth approximately IDR 152 billion ($10.7 million); it conducted 114 investigations, initiated 81 prosecutions, and completed 111 cases resulting in convictions. The Attorney General Office’s Corruption Taskforce was also active in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.

On March 10, two police generals were convicted and sentenced for taking bribes from Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, a fugitive from charges of involvement in a Bank Bali debt scandal, to assist him in traveling around the country while a fugitive. Inspector General Napoleon Bonaparte was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for taking IDR 7.2 billion ($500,000) in bribes; Brigadier General Prasetijo Utomo was sentenced to three and one-half years for taking IDR 1.4 billion ($100,000). On April 5, Tjandra was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for bribing Bonaparte, Utomo, and a prosecutor.

On July 16, former minister of marine affairs and fisheries Edhy Prabowo was found guilty of accepting bribes from businessmen and misusing his authority to expedite export permits for lobster larvae. Prabowo was sentenced to five years in prison, a substantial fine, and barred from public office for three years after the end of his sentence.

On August 23, former social affairs minister Juliari Peter Batubara was found guilty of accepting IDR 20.8 billion ($1.45 million) in kickbacks related to government food assistance programs created to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Juliari was sentenced to 12 years in prison, ordered to pay IDR 14.6 billion ($1 million) in restitution, a fine of IDR 500 million ($34,700), and barred from running for public office for four years after the end of his prison term.

According to NGOs and media reports, police commonly demanded bribes ranging from minor payoffs in traffic cases to large amounts in criminal investigations. Corrupt officials sometimes subjected Indonesian migrants returning from abroad, primarily women, to arbitrary strip searches, theft, and extortion.

Bribes and extortion influenced prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in civil and criminal cases. Anticorruption NGOs accused key individuals in the justice system of accepting bribes and condoning suspected corruption. Legal aid organizations reported cases often moved very slowly unless a bribe was paid, and in some cases, prosecutors demanded payments from defendants to ensure a less zealous prosecution or to make a case disappear.

In 2020 the National Ombudsman received 284 complaints related to maladministration in court decisions. From January 1 to October 30, 2020, the Judicial Commission received 1,158 public complaints of judicial misconduct and recommended sanctions against 121 judges. The Judicial Commission reported that from January 4 to April 30, they had received 494 complaints of judicial misconduct.

Iran

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, provided all have been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council. Elections are based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability freely to seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited citizens’ right to choose freely their representatives in elections.

The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the de facto head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections, based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and adherence to Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) and approved by parliament.

Observers noted that the supreme leader’s public commentary on state policy exerted significant influence over the actions of elected officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections held on June 18 fell short of international standards for free and fair elections, primarily because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office and, in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates. Overwhelmingly positive media coverage of a single candidate and the reformist political leaders’ unwillingness to coalesce behind a challenger also contributed to the election outcome. The election turnout of 48.8 percent was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, breaking the 1993 election record low of 50.66 percent. Former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, widely asserted to be the supreme leader’s choice for his eventual successor, won the election and took office on August 3. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Guardian Council disqualified 7,296 candidates in the period preceding the election. The council barred all reformist candidates from running, as well as the conservative former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was widely considered the strongest challenger to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Domestic and foreign media reports and social media users noted mostly unspecified or ambiguous violations on election day. One incident acknowledged by officials occurred when some electronic voting machines in Tehran went offline for brief periods of time, but those officials stated backup analog vote counting procedures prevented significant voting disruptions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties deemed to adhere to the “governance of the jurist” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment and sometimes violence and imprisonment. The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties.  Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women, as well as persons of foreign origin, from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council; and as certain types of judges.

In an October 2020 press conference, former guardian council spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei claimed there was no prohibition on women running for president in the 2021 election. Nonetheless, the Guardian Council disqualified all 40 women who registered as candidates for the 2021 presidential election.

All cabinet-level ministers were men. A limited number of women held senior government positions, including that of vice president for women and family affairs. Women made up approximately 6 percent of parliament.

In December 2020 Fars News, an agency managed by the IRGC, reported that Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced former vice president for women and family affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi to 30 months in prison. Fars stated the sentence included two years on charges of divulging “classified information and documents with the intent of disrupting national security” and six months for “propaganda against the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Observers noted Molaverdi had over the years defended the right of women to attend sporting events in stadiums, criticized the marriage of girls younger than age 15, and been involved in other high-profile issues. Fars reported Branch 2 of Tehran’s Criminal Court also sentenced Molaverdi for encouraging “corruption, prostitution, and sexual deviance.” Similar charges were brought in the past against individuals flouting mandatory hijab laws or encouraging others to do so. Molaverdi responded that she would appeal the verdicts; there was no update of her case by year’s end.

In early September President Raisi appointed Ansieh Khazali as the vice president for women and family affairs. Unlike Molaverdi, Khazali was against UNESCO’s 2030 initiative that includes eliminating gender discrimination from education and said she supported child marriage.

Practitioners of a religion other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council. There are two seats reserved in parliament for Armenian Christians, one for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians together, one for Jews, and one for Zoroastrians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court. The law allows constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials, while at other times bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations (bonyads) accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials.

The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

Corruption: In January a court sentenced Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, who served as a vice president during the Rouhani administration, to two years in prison on corruption charges. Jahangiri was arrested in 2017 for financial crimes, including “professional currency smuggling.”

See section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media; and Violence and Harassment for examples of journalists persecuted for reporting on corruption.

In June 2020 media reported Romanian authorities arrested Iranian judge Gholamreza Mansouri at Iran’s request after Mansouri and several other judges in Iran were accused of accepting more than 21 billion tomans ($500,000) in bribes. Several days prior, RSF filed an official complaint with German federal judicial authorities highlighting Mansouri’s role in suppressing and jailing dozens of Iranian journalists and urging his arrest, in the belief that Mansouri was present in Germany. In June 2020 Mansouri was found dead after an apparent fall from the sixth story of the hotel where he was staying while awaiting extradition to Iran under Romanian supervision. There were no reports of further investigation into his death during the year.

Iraq

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. Despite violence and other irregularities in the conduct of previously held elections, citizens were generally able to exercise this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the year the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) conducted elections for the Iraqi COR – the national parliament. The ISF, IDPs, and detainees voted at special polling stations October 8, and general voting took place October 10. Voter turnout based on the number of registered voters was 43 percent. Official IHEC statistics using a similar methodology showed 44 percent turnout in 2018; however, the elections during the year excluded out-of-country voters and restricted IDP voting to those IDPs with biometric voter IDs. The elections were observed by the EU and by domestic civil society organizations and monitored by UNAMI.

Domestic and international elections observers cited procedural and transparency improvements over the 2018 elections. IHEC experienced minor glitches with its new voting technologies, first introduced in 2018, but was able to overcome many of these challenges due to the robust presence of international advisers provided largely by UNAMI. Domestic and international elections observers cited that violence against activists and voter intimidation by paramilitary militia groups in the months ahead of the elections likely affected voters’ choice and voter turnout. International observers also cited that unregulated campaign spending and “rampant disinformation online, including by political stakeholders and groups affiliated with foreign countries” that spread false narratives and attacked and threatened candidates – especially women, journalists, and human rights activists – also negatively affected candidate participation. Credible allegations of vote buying were common.

The COR ratified a new election law in November 2020 which divided the country into 83 smaller electoral districts and effectively changed the country’s elections from a proportional representation system based on party lists to a single, nontransferable vote system. This system yielded more competitive and unexpected results than in prior elections, prompting some parties to allege the results were manipulated. Most observers dismissed these allegations, citing an independent audit of IHEC’s electronic results management system completed ahead of the elections.

Militia-affiliated parties staged paid demonstrations outside of Baghdad’s international zone that resulted in clashes with the ISF and the deaths of two militia members on November 5. Similar groups were also suspected of staging a rocket attack on government facilities in Baghdad on October 31 and an attack on Prime Minister al-Kadhimi’s residence on November 7 using explosive-laden drones. Separately, winning independent candidate Nadhim al-Shibly was attacked with an explosive device at his home in al-Qadisiyah Province on November 6. IHEC announced the final interim election results on November 30 following the Electoral Judicial Panel’s review of election appeals, which resulted in the change of the winners of five seats.

On December 27, the Federal Supreme Court (FSC) certified the results of the October 10 election, a few hours after rejecting a case brought by Fatah Alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri to invalidate the election results. The FSC ruled that Amiri must repay court-proceeding expenses and that the new COR could amend the election law to mandate manual results tabulation, in part to mitigate future controversies regarding alleged electronic tampering and appease election rejectionists.

The parliamentary election saw the first implementation of new biometric identification voter ID (BVID) requirements for special voting categories to include security forces, IDPs, and detainees. Due in part to these requirements, the number of eligible IDP voters dropped to 120,126 from 293,943 in 2018. IDP returns and government closures of IDP camps also affected IDPs’ ability to vote. IHEC made attempts to register IDPs for BVIDs using mobile outreach teams and by working with IDP camp administrators. Most detainees also did not have the documents required to obtain the BVID due to the government’s civil identity directorate COVID-19-limited hours. Access to prison populations was also restricted due to COVID-19 resulting in reduced electoral participation by these individuals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and coalition blocs tended to organize along either religious or ethnic lines, although some parties crossed sectarian lines. Membership in some political parties conferred special privileges and advantages in employment and education. IHEC confirmed the registration of 38 coalitions and 256 parties to participate in parliamentary elections, although some did not run candidates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, persons with disabilities (see section 6), or members of minority groups in the political process, and these groups did participate. The constitution mandates that women constitute at least 25 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership. Female candidates comprised 29 percent of overall candidates, and women won a record 97 seats in parliament, including 54 that did not rely on the quota process. Nonetheless, political discussions often reportedly marginalized female members of parliament.

Of the 329 seats in parliament, the law reserves nine seats for members of minority groups: five for Christians from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Duhok Provinces; one for Yezidis; one for Sabean-Mandaeans; one for Shabak; and, following a parliamentary decision in 2019, one for Faili Kurds in Wasit Province. Members of minority groups won additional seats in parliament over their quota allotment, including three Yezidis and, for the first time, two Kaka’i.

The KRG reserves 30 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership for women. Three women held cabinet-level positions as of October, and women constituted 86 of the IKR’s 435 judges and held an additional 383 positions in the judicial sector. Of 111 seats in the IKP, the law reserves 11 seats for members of minority groups along ethnic, rather than religious lines: five for (predominantly Christian) Chaldo-Assyrian candidates, five for Turkmen candidates, and one for Armenian candidates. No seats are reserved for self-described groups whom the KRG considers ethnically Kurdish or Arab, such as Yezidis, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, and Faili Kurds.

Major political parties partnered with, or in some cases created, affiliated minority group political parties in both the central government and IKR elections and encouraged other nonminority citizens to vote for their allied minority candidates for quota seats in the COR and IKP. Minority religious leaders and minority community activists complained this process disenfranchised them, and they advocated for electoral reform to limit voting for minority quota seats to voters of the relevant minority, as well as for additional quota seats in the COR and IKP.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government struggled to implement the laws effectively. The law allows some individuals convicted of corruption to receive amnesty upon repaying money obtained through corruption, which had the effect of allowing them to keep any profits from stolen funds.

Corruption remained a chief obstacle to effective governance at all institutional levels. Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common at all levels and across all branches of government. Family, tribal, and ethno-sectarian considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels and across all branches of government. Federal and KRG officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were, however, notable steps in 2020, including the approval of a national anticorruption strategy and subpoenas issued for and conviction of government officials for corruption in the IKR and the rest of the country.

The Council of Ministers Secretariat has an anticorruption advisor, and the COR has an Integrity Committee. There is also a Federal Commission of Integrity (COI), a COR-monitored commission established in 2004 and recognized under the 2005 constitution as an independent body tasked with preventing and investigating corruption at all levels of government. The Council of Ministers secretary general leads the Joint Anticorruption Council, which also includes agency inspectors general. Investigations of corruption were not free from political influence.

In June the government approved the provisions of the national anticorruption strategy proposed by the COI for 2021-24. The provisions of the national anticorruption strategy include the use of international companies that have experience and competence in the field of recovering smuggled funds from those convicted on corruption charges and working to control inflation and graft. The government made several arrests for corruption-related charges.

Anticorruption efforts were hampered by a lack of agreement concerning institutional roles, political will, political influence, lack of transparency, and unclear governing legislation and regulatory processes. The existence of armed militias, which were directly involved in corruption and provided protection for corrupt officials, made serious and sustainable anticorruption efforts difficult to enforce.

Although anticorruption institutions increasingly collaborated with civil society groups, the effect of expanded cooperation was limited. Media and NGOs attempted to expose corruption independently, but their capacity was limited. Anticorruption, law enforcement, and judicial officials, as well as members of civil society and media, faced threats, intimidation, and abuse in their efforts to combat corrupt practices.

Corruption: The Permanent Committee to Investigate Corruption and Significant Crimes established by the prime minister in 2020 to investigate and prosecute major corruption cases continued its work during the year. Because it had the support of the government counterterrorism services unit, which could implement warrants and judicial orders, corrupt officials reportedly began to feel pressured.

In October Babil Province health director general Mohammed Hashem al-Jaafari, was sentenced to six months in prison on bribery charges. The case of the director general of the General Establishment for Iron and Steel, Abbas Hayal, who had been arrested at the same time, was still pending. In August the director general of the Iraqi Cement Company, Ali Saleh Mahdi, who had been arrested by the committee in April, was sentenced to six years in prison for misuse of public funds.

In July the COI released its semiannual report, stating it issued 54 subpoenas against 33 officials with ministerial rank, and 243 subpoenas against 177 officials with director general rank or equivalent. Four officials with ministerial rank, as well as 74 directors general, were referred for trial. The COI also announced the sentencing of a retired judge under the graft law, which was applied for the first time. The judge was unable to prove the source of assets registered in his wife’s name worth 24 billion dinars ($17 million).

The KRG maintained its own COI. According to the KRG COI’s report, there were 277 corruption cases underway and 445 under criminal investigation, with 58 individuals convicted, and 54 awaiting a final trial decision. The convictions came from across the IKR, including Erbil (12), Duhok (41), and Sulaymaniyah (five).

Media reported that the head of the Garmian Appellate Court in the province of Sulaymaniyah on June 15 removed Judge Abdulamir Jum’a from the Garmian COI. NGOs and activists widely assessed this was due to his outspokenness on prominent corruption cases and because he issued arrest warrants for influential officials. The judge retained his seat on the Garmian Preliminary Court, but activists and NGOs declared his dismissal was intended as a warning to deter other judges who sought to combat corruption and was a greenlight to corrupt officials that they could continue their activities with impunity.

The Central Bank leads the government’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The bank’s Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Office (AMLCFTO) worked with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to identify and prosecute illicit financial transactions. The latest report released by the office in 2019 showed it investigated 400 potential cases of money laundering during 2019, with 34 cases referred to the judiciary and 192 cases under review by the office’s analysts. The AMLCFTO was not a member of the Egmont Group, the international organization responsible for coordinating secure information sharing with other countries, limiting the country’s ability to exchange information on illicit finance matters, including corruption.

Ireland

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 from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the presidential elections in 2018 and the 2020 parliamentary elections were free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law reduces government funding to political parties unless 30 percent of their candidates during general elections are women. Former taoiseach (prime minister) and current tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Leo Varadkar was the only self-identified ethnic minority member of the Dail (Irish Parliament), and Senator Eileen Flynn is the first member of the Travelling community in the Seanad Eireann (Irish Senate). According to an investigation by the Irish Independent newspaper in November 2020, politicians identifying as ethnic or sexual minorities received a disproportionate amount of online abuse.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. There were no reports of central government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were isolated reports of low-level government corruption.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

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. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices except that of mayor and are denied the right to vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the March 23 parliamentary elections free and fair. More than 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. During the March elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the outcome.

After the Ministry of Interior retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,624 Bedouin citizens, many of them were unable to participate in national elections until their status was resolved (see section 2.g.).

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. A political party may not be registered if its goals include support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference.

On February 17, the Central Elections Committee disqualified Labor Arab candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana by a 16-15 vote on the grounds of her denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and due to her support for the armed struggle of a terrorist organization against the State of Israel. On February 28, the Supreme Court overruled the disqualification and reinstated Mara’ana’s candidacy. On February 17, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) rejected two motions submitted by the ultranationalist Jewish Power Party and Religious Zionist Party to disqualify the Joint List and the United Arab List, known in Hebrew as Ra’am.

The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of boycotting national elections.

The law restricts the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

The law allows dismissal of a member of the Knesset if 90 of 120 Knesset members vote for expulsion, following a request of 70 members, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member may replace the member with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member may run in the next election. Joint List member of the Knesset Yousef Jabareen and several NGOs asserted that the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that the law harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

In the period preceding the March elections, the NGO Adalah demanded that the CEC and the Ministry of Interior set up polling stations for Arab Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev or provide the voters with transportation to their assigned polling stations. Authorities denied the request.

On June 22, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by former Knesset member Yousef Jabareen and Adalah against a Knesset decision to block members from overseas trips funded by organizations that endorse BDS against Israel.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women and minorities participated widely in politics, although their representation in the Knesset remained low. Of the 120-member Knesset, there were 35 women members and 14 members from ethnic or religious minorities (nine Muslims, three Druze, one Ethiopian-Israeli, and one Christian). As of December, the government’s 35-member cabinet included nine women, one of whom was Ethiopian-Israeli. There were two Arabs. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Of the 257 mayors and local council heads, 14 were women.

Eligible voters among the approximately 100,000 Arab Bedouin citizens that live in unrecognized villages in southern Israel, registered as tribal residents and are not entitled to vote in municipal elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.

Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. In 2019 the then attorney general indicted then prime minister Netanyahu for allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust in connection with the regulation of a telecommunications company. The indictment also covered an alleged attempt to direct authorities to suppress media coverage in exchange for favorable press and the alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts. The trial was continued at year’s end.

Former labor minister Haim Katz was indicted for separate offenses of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Former minister of interior Aryeh Deri and former deputy minister of housing and construction Yakov Litzman were separately under investigation for various alleged offenses. On August 9, former minister and member of Knesset David Bitan was indicted for bribery, breach of trust, money laundering, and tax offenses.

On March 17, the prosecution filed an indictment against Nathan Forman, a former Egged bus company official, for receiving bribes in the amount of 5.5 million new Israeli shekels ($1.71 million) from the German company EvoBus GmbH, tax offenses amounting to 26 million shekels ($8.08 million), and money laundering.

The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation on whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor may ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors convicted of leaking a police recommendation or an investigation summary may be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.

Italy

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: National and international observers considered the 2018 parliamentary elections free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Corruption was a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

On March 29, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption noted the absences of “clear and enforceable conflict of interest rules” for parliamentarians, “a robust set of restrictions concerning donations, gifts, hospitality, favors and other benefits for parliamentarians,” “practical measures … to support the implementation of clear parliamentary integrity rules including through the development of dedicated training activities,” and “a restriction on the simultaneous holding of the office of magistrate and that of a member of local government.”

Corruption: In January the trial of 325 members of the ‘Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate began in Calabria. The charges against defendants included murder, extortion, usury, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption, and belonging to a criminal syndicate. The prosecution aimed to expose the deep links between organized crime and other elements of society. The trial continued at year’s end.

Jamaica

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 national elections in September 2020, the Jamaica Labour Party won 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Observers judged the elections to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In national elections in September 2020, 18 women (29 percent of total seats) were elected to the House of Representatives out of 30 female candidates, a 50 percent increase from the 12 women elected during the 2016 general election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and corruption was a significant problem of public concern. Media and civil society organizations criticized the government for being slow and at times reluctant to prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption: In October the auditor general called for a probe into the Ministry of Education’s transfer of 124 million Jamaican dollars ($800,000) to a private entity when the ministry could not account for the intended use of the funds. The acting permanent secretary of the ministry was placed on administrative leave but was not charged.

Japan

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: An election for the Lower House of the Diet in October was free and fair according to international observers. Upper House elections in 2019 were also considered free and fair.

On November 1, lawyers filed lawsuits in 14 high courts and their branches around the country seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts. The lawyers stated that the disparity in the weight of a single vote between the most and least populated electoral districts was unconstitutionally wide. In a similar lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the 2019 Upper House elections were constitutional while expressing concern that the Diet made little progress to rectify the vote weight disparity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process if they are citizens, and they did participate. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men. Women, however, have not been elected to any level of office at rates reflecting this.

The number of the elected women in both the national parliament and local assemblies remained low. At a national level, female Lower House members accounted for 9.7 percent of the total following the October Lower House election. In the Upper House, the percentage of elected female members was 22.6 percent. The percentages of women’s representation in both houses dropped from the previous elections, down from 10.1 percent in the Lower House and 23.1 percent in the Upper House. In local assemblies, the average percentage of the elected women in 2020 was 14.5 percent, according to the Cabinet Offices’ Gender Equality Bureau.

The number of female candidates was low as well. Women made up 17 percent of the candidates for the October Lower House elections, down from 17.8 percent from the previous election. A law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Separately, a government plan encourages political parties to make their best efforts to raise the number of female candidates to 35 percent of all candidates in national and local elections by 2025. Neither the law or the government plan imposes mandatory quotas for the female candidates, nor do they punish failure to meet these goals.

In an April by-election, a female candidate reported numerous instances of gender discrimination during her campaign, including when the ruling LDP accused her of being too arrogant by assuming she could run for a Diet seat as an untested, “ignorant” female candidate. There were also reports of voters inappropriately touching and sexually harassing female candidates while they were campaigning.

Very few individuals with disabilities ran as candidates.

Some ethnic minority group members of mixed heritage served in the Diet, but their numbers were difficult to ascertain because they did not always self-identify.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were documented cases of corruption by officials.

Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. There were investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving government officials.

Corruption: Among cases of corruption by officials, on February 5, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Kawai Anri, former member of the House of Councilors, to imprisonment for one year and four months with a five-year suspension of the jail sentence. On October 21, the court finalized a sentence given to Kawai Katsuyuki, the spouse of Kawai Anri and a former member of the House of Representatives, of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.3 million yen ($11,900). In 2020 the Kawais were arrested and indicted on charges of paying cash for votes in Kawai Anri’s election. The couple lost their Diet seats February 3 (Anri) and April 1 (Katsuyuki).

Thirteen officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were found on June 4 to have violated the government’s National Public Service Ethics Code, which prohibits receiving favors from stakeholders. Suga Seigo, son of former prime minister Suga Yoshihide, and other members of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, a satellite broadcasting company, gave the 13 officials thousands of dollars’ worth of favors on 39 occasions between 2016 and 2020. Of the 13 officials, 11 were administratively reprimanded; none were prosecuted. The light penalty reflected the fact that the process was an internal, administrative one rather than a criminal prosecution.

In September the Tokyo District Court found former LDP Diet member Akimoto Tsukasa guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.6 million yen ($69,700) between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator bidding to enter Japan’s casino market. He was also found guilty of offering money to two advisors to the company in exchange for giving false testimony. Akimoto was the senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office in 2017 and 2018 responsible for the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos. He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 7.6 million yen ($69,700). He appealed the decision to a higher court. As of October, his appeal was still pending.

Jordan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, some members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal councils. While voting processes were well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation.

The Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System released a draft elections law, draft political parties law, and recommendations to amend the constitution and other laws on October 4, spurring national debate. If enacted, these proposals would use a party-based proportional representation electoral system to select 30 percent of the next lower house of parliament, while preserving geographic electoral districts for other members of parliament. The proposals would expand the party-based proportional representation electoral system to 50 percent and then 65 percent of the seats in the lower house in subsequent elections. Additionally, the committee proposed legal changes that would transfer responsibility for regulating political parties from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to the Independent Election Commission and incentivize participation of women and youth in political parties.

Parliament approved a new Municipalities and Decentralization Law on September 14. The law restores the direct election of mayors and municipal council members, with the exception of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba. The law allows the cabinet to appoint 40 percent of the governorate councils’ members (from 15 percent in the 2015 law).

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in November 2020. Local monitors reported the election was technically well administered.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits parties formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin, as well as membership in unlicensed parties. The law also prohibits members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, and security service personnel from joining parties. There were 49 registered political parties, but most had few members and only two ran party-based lists in the 2020 election. International organizations continued to have concerns regarding the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Many politicians believed the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform, despite political parties being legal since 1992. Local civil society organizations were able to monitor and comment on the election process in 2020.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain ethnic or religious minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems held a small minority of positions in national and local legislative bodies and executive-branch leadership roles.

The 29-member cabinet included two female ministers as of November: the minister of culture and the minister of state for legal affairs. Sixteen women served as members of parliament, 15 selected by quota and one through open competition. The new Municipalities and Decentralization Law raises the quota for women on governorate councils from 10 percent to 25 percent of elected members and provides for a 20 percent female quota on municipal councils. No women won mayorships in the 2017 election.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers, senators, and ambassadors. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Authorities began showing an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations in recent years. Courts convicted a former minister of public works and housing, customs director general, and several local elected officials in separate trials during the year. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.

In February the king sent an open letter to the GID director stating that because civilian oversight institutions and the judicial system had “stepped up to their constitutional and legal responsibilities,” the GID should focus solely on national security.

Activists and journalists found it difficult to access government reporting and statistics. They attributed the lack of access to ineffective record keeping and the government’s withholding information from the public. In September the NCHR stated freedom to access information was pivotal to promoting human rights and called for penalties for individuals who impede the public from obtaining information or who intentionally destroy it.

Corruption: On September 29, the SSC issued verdicts in a case related to the illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. A three-judge panel convicted 23 defendants and sentenced the chief suspect to 20 years’ imprisonment. The judges also acquitted four defendants and dismissed charges on two defendants who died during the trial. The verdict was subject to appeal at the Court of Cassation. The SSC also imposed fines of JD 179 million ($252 million) on multiple defendants in the case, requiring additional hearings.

Kazakhstan

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, but the government severely limited exercise of this right.

The constitution concentrates power in the presidency itself. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The law requires most of these appointments to be made in consultation with the chairman of the Security Council, a position that was granted in 2018 to then president Nazarbayev for his lifetime. The law also grants Nazarbayev lifetime membership on the Constitutional Council, allows him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulates that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.

The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. The Mazhilis and the Senate always confirmed presidential nominations. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On January 10, the country held national elections for the Mazhilis. Five of the country’s six officially registered political parties participated in the elections. The ruling Nur Otan Party won a reported 71 percent of the vote and received 76 seats in the Mazhilis, the Ak Zhol Party won 10.95 percent and received 12 seats, and the People’s Party won 9.1 percent and received 10 seats. Political parties Auyl, with 5 percent of votes, and Adal, with 3.57 percent, did not surpass the 7-percent threshold for proportional representation in the Mazhilis and so received no seats. Independent observers criticized the elections for numerous irregularities and restrictions. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission’s report, the parliamentary elections lacked competition and transparency, and voters had limited opportunity to make an informed choice.

In August 2020 the country held Senate elections, following the legal requirement that 17 of 49 senators rotate every three years. Senators were selected by members of maslikhats (local representative bodies) acting as electors to represent each administrative region and the cities of national significance. Four incumbent senators were re-elected. Most newly elected senators were affiliated with the local representative bodies that elected them.

The government conducted presidential elections in 2019. Of seven presidential candidates, Tokayev won with 70.96 percent of the vote. According to an OSCE observer mission’s report, the election “offered an important moment for potential political reforms, but it was tarnished by clear violations of fundamental freedoms as well as pressure on critical voices.” The report cited several infractions such as ballot-box stuffing, problems with vote counting, and cases of deliberate falsification. Other problems noted in the report included a lack of transparency, such as not releasing election results by polling station, and violations of the rights of assembly, expression, and association. The report noted the widespread detention of peaceful protesters on election day in major cities. Overall, the conduct of the election showed “scant respect for democratic standards,” reported the OSCE mission.

The OSCE report further observed that the problems went beyond election day itself. According to the final report, in prior years some opposition parties were either banned or marginalized through restrictive legislation or criminal prosecution, and the ability of political parties to register was significantly restricted by the law. Moreover, the laws on candidate eligibility were highly restrictive.

Laws restrict public opinion surveys ahead of elections by requiring registration, five years of experience, and notification to the Central Election Commission (CEC). Violation of the law leads to moderate fines for individuals or organizations. The law prohibits publishing, within five days prior to elections, election forecasts and other research related to elections, or support for particular candidates or political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Several groups tried to register as political parties, but all attempts were rejected by the government.

On June 25, activists from the unregistered El Tiregi political party, led by Nurzhan Altayev, and from the Union of Tajik-Afghan War Veterans protested in Nur-Sultan regarding multiple denials by authorities to register El Tiregi. According to Altayev, he unsuccessfully attempted 10 times to register El Tiregi.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, but traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life.

The law mandates a combined 30 percent quota for women and youth in the lists of candidates running for elections. Youth are defined as persons between ages 14 and 29.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed, especially where corruption was involved or there were personal relationships with government officials.

Corruption: Corruption was widespread in the executive branch, law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary, according to human rights NGOs. According to the Agency on Combatting Corruption, the largest numbers of officials held liable for corruption in the first six months of the year were in police, finance, and agriculture.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Agency on Combatting Corruption, the KNB, and the economic investigations service of the Finance Ministry were responsible for combating corruption. The KNB investigated corruption crimes committed by officers of the security services, the anticorruption bureau, and the military.

The Agency on Combatting Corruption reported that from January to September, it registered and investigated 921 corruption cases; 101 officials were detained, and 101 were arrested. The agency sent 725 cases to courts for prosecution, and 570 individuals were convicted. Of those convicted, 138 were convicted for taking bribes, 237 for giving bribes, 12 for serving as intermediaries, 78 for fraud, 42 for embezzlement, and 44 for abuse of power.

On September 16, an appellate court in Nur-Sultan convicted Berik Sharip, the former chairman of the state-owned pharmaceuticals distribution monopoly SK-Pharmacia, on charges of abuse of power related to medicine procurements during the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency. The court sentenced Sharip to three and one-half years in prison. In August, Sharip was convicted on illegal weapons charges.

Kenya

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 August 2017 citizens voted in the second general election under the 2010 constitution, electing executive leadership and parliamentarians, county governors, and members of county assemblies. International and domestic observers, such as the Kenya Elections Observation Group, African Union Observer Mission, and Carter Center, judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups raised concerns regarding irregularities. In the presidential election, Jubilee Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta won with a margin significantly above that of runner-up candidate Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance. The National Super Alliance challenged the results in a petition to the Supreme Court. In September 2017 the court ruled in the National Super Alliance’s favor, annulling the presidential elections and citing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for irregularities in voter registration and technical problems with vote tallying and transmission. The court ordered a new election for president and deputy president, which was held on October 26, 2017.

On October 10, 2017, Odinga announced his withdrawal from the new election, asserting the IEBC had not taken sufficient steps to ensure a free and fair election. The October 26 vote was marred by low voter turnout in some areas and protests in some opposition strongholds. Human Rights Watch documented more than 100 persons badly injured and at least 33 killed by police using excessive force in response to protests following the August election, and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported another 13 deaths before, during, and after the October vote.

On October 30, 2017, the IEBC declared Kenyatta the winner of the new election. On November 20, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected petitions challenging the October 26 elections and upheld Kenyatta’s victory. Odinga refused to accept Kenyatta’s re-election and repeated his call for citizens’ assemblies across the country to discuss constitutional revisions to restructure the government and the elections process. On January 30, 2018, elements of the opposition publicly swore Odinga in as “the People’s President,” and the government shut down major public media houses for several days to prevent them from covering the event.

Kenyatta and Odinga publicly reconciled in March 2018 and pledged to work together towards national unity. In May 2018 the president established the Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce as part of this pledge. The task force issued a report with proposed constitutional, legislative, and policy reforms, which led to passage of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020. Civil society organizations challenged the bill and the so-called Building Bridges Initiative’s constitutionality in court. In August the Court of Appeal ruled the bill and overall initiative were unconstitutional, in part because the court found the president lacks authority to initiate a popular initiative to amend the constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To reduce voter fraud, the government used a biometric voter registration system, first employed in 2013. Possession of a national identity card or passport was a prerequisite for voter registration. In June some voters found their names on the membership lists of parties for which they had not registered, sparking concerns about voters’ data privacy. In October the IEBC reduced a three-month-long voter registration drive to one month, reportedly due to a lack of funding. The IEBC aimed to register more than six million new voters, but at the conclusion of the drive on November 2 had registered approximately 1.4 million new voters.

The country’s five largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Luo, and Kamba, continued to hold most political positions. Civil society groups raised concerns regarding the underrepresentation of minority ethnic groups, including indigenous communities and women.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Voting rates and measures of other types of participation in the political process by women and members of minority groups remained lower than those of nonminority men.

The constitution provides for parliamentary representation by women, youth, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities. The constitution specifically states no gender should encumber more than two-thirds of elective and appointed offices. Parliament had not enacted legislation to implement this provision, despite four court orders to do so (see section 1.e.). As of year’s end, men made up nearly the entire leadership of the National Assembly and the Senate, except for a female deputy speaker of the Senate. President Kenyatta appointed one additional woman to the cabinet in January, for a total of seven women in the cabinet.

Female leaders and advocacy groups continued to cite inadequate political support from their parties, particularly in the primaries; a lack of financial resources; gender-based violence, including rape and sexual harassment; gender stereotyping; and patriarchal structures across society as significant barriers to women’s participation in political processes.

The overall success rate of female candidates who ran for positions in the 2017 national elections was 16 percent, with 23 women elected and 52 women nominated to the 349-member National Assembly, and three women elected and 18 women nominated to the 67-member Senate. Women were elected to three of the 47 governorships, although there were only two female governors during the year. Compared with 2013, the number of women elected to office increased by almost 19 percent. The constitution provides for the representation in government of ethnic minorities, but civil society groups noted minorities remained underrepresented in local and national government. The constitution also calls for persons with disabilities to hold a minimum of 5 percent of seats in the Senate and National Assembly, but persons with disabilities composed only 3 percent of Senate and National Assembly members.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in allegedly corrupt practices with impunity. Despite public progress in fighting corruption, the government continued to face hurdles in implementing relevant laws effectively. The slow processing of corruption cases was exacerbated by COVID-19 containment measures, with courts lacking sufficient technological capacity to hear cases remotely.

Corruption: The director of public prosecutions continued prosecutions of high-level cases involving six sitting county governors and dozens of national government and parastatal officials with ties to the ruling party and to the political opposition. A landmark ruling in 2019 bars county governors from accessing their offices until their corruption cases are concluded. Two governors were indicted and impeached by their county assemblies while their cases continued in the courts. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) also investigated high-level procurement irregularities at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a state agency with the sole mandate of procuring medications and equipment for government health centers. The investigations involved procurement of personal protective equipment at inflated costs and probed the alleged disappearance of personal protective equipment and other equipment donated to the country. These investigations and prosecutions continued at year’s end. In September the Anti-Corruption Court convicted two high-profile defendants, a former cabinet secretary and a former director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

The public continued to perceive corruption as a severe problem at all levels of government. Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa found 45 percent of respondents had paid a bribe, compared with 37 percent in the previous 2015 survey. Police and authorities issuing identification documents were cited the most for taking bribes. Corruption had increased according to 67 percent of respondents, and 71 percent believed the government was doing a poor job of combating corruption, unchanged from the results of Transparency’s 2015 Corruption Barometer.

In 2019 President Kenyatta appointed a new chief executive officer of the EACC, who introduced a new approach to tackling corruption that prioritized high-impact cases, systems reviews, assets recovery, and public communication. Officials from agencies tasked with fighting corruption, including the EACC, the ODPP, and judiciary, were also subjects of corruption allegations.

The EACC has the legal mandate to investigate official corruption allegations, develop and enforce a code of ethics for public officials, and engage in public outreach on corruption. The EACC, however, lacks prosecutorial authority and must refer cases to the ODPP to initiate prosecutions. Disagreements between the ODPP and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) regarding which office can initiate investigations and deliver files to court resulted in the delayed prosecution of the Kenya Ports Authority managing director on corruption allegations. In June 2020 the Kenyan Constitutional Court declared the DCI did not have power or authority to institute criminal proceedings before a court of law without consent from the ODPP. Following that ruling, the ODPP issued decision to charge guidelines to assist prosecutors in charging decisions.

The government took additional steps during the year to combat corruption, including increasing the number of investigations and prosecutions. The government made limited progress on other commitments, including adoption of international anticorruption standards and digitization of government records and processes. Because courts had significant case backlogs and relied heavily on trials (rather than settlements), cases could take years to resolve.

Police corruption remained a significant problem. Human rights NGOs reported police often stopped and arrested citizens to extort bribes. Police sometimes jailed citizens on trumped-up charges or beat those who could not pay the bribes. During police vetting conducted by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) in recent years, many police officers were found to have the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, far exceeding what would be possible to save from their salaries. Mobile money records showed some officers also transferred money to superior officers.

The judiciary and the National Police Service continued measures to reform the handling of traffic cases by police and courts, streamlining the management of traffic offenses to curb corruption. Despite this progress, no senior police official was convicted or jailed for corruption-related offenses during the year.

Kiribati

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 two-step legislative elections in April 2020 and the presidential election in June 2020 to be free and fair. The legislature has 46 members. Of that number, 44 are elected by universal adult suffrage; the Rabi Island Council of i-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji elects one; the attorney general, as an ex officio member, occupies the remaining seat. Anecdotal information from regional media reported unverified claims of foreign interference during election campaigning.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process. Participation by women is low, largely due to traditional perceptions of their role in society. Four women were elected to the legislature in 2020, comprising 9 percent of that body, compared with three women in the 2016 elections. In April 2020, parliament appointed its first female speaker. Several women served as permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries in the administration.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer: Pacific 2021, released in November, nepotism and favoritism based on tribal and church ties were prevalent. The auditor general is responsible for oversight of government but lacked sufficient resources to enforce the law effectively.

Kosovo

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 based on universal and equal suffrage.

The Serbian government continued to operate illegal parallel government structures in Kosovo Serb majority areas and in areas primarily inhabited by the Kosovo-Gorani community. The Serbian government often used these structures to influence Kosovo-Serb and Kosovo-Gorani communities and their political representatives.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held extraordinary parliamentary elections in February. International and independent observers as well as ethnic minority group representatives noted pressure and intimidation within ethnic minority communities to support parties aligned with Srpska List, a party closely aligned with the Serbian government. Some Kosovo Serbs also reported being pressured not to support parties other than Srpska List. According to National Democratic Institute observers, Srpska List politicians pushed for the creation of new Roma and Bosniak political parties and encouraged Kosovo Serbs to vote for these new parties in an attempt to increase their influence in the Assembly by gaining seats reserved for minority groups.

In March the Supreme Court annulled most of the votes cast for the reportedly Srpska-List-aligned Romani Initiative and Ujedinjena Zajednica-Adrijana Hodzic parties, asserting their votes did not originate from the communities the guaranteed seats were intended to represent. The Supreme Court ruling led Hodzic to lose her seat, which went to the runner-up Bosniak party, the Social Democratic Union. Romani Initiative also lost one of the two seats it initially appeared to win, with the seat going to another Romani community party.

On January 22, ahead of the February 14 elections, the Central Election Commissions voted to deny certification to any party’s candidates with a criminal conviction in the past three years, in line with the laws governing campaign eligibility. The following day, then acting president Vjosa Osmani criticized this vote in a public statement. Subsequently, on June 14, President Osmani dismissed election commissions chairperson Valdete Daka for allegedly acting in a manner that seriously affected the independence and the integrity of the commissions. Eleven civil society organizations jointly called Osmani’s decision politically motivated, and the EU Election Observation Mission’s report noted “The decision of the President of Kosovo to dismiss the former election commissions Chairperson on 14 June, four years before the expiration of her second mandate and just one day before the call for the municipal elections, could not be adequately substantiated neither by the reasoning of the decision nor by the enumerated grounds in the Law of General Elections. Notably, both decisions are viewed by the opposition parties and civil society as politically motivated.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated freely in most of the country, and there were no significant barriers to registration. Party affiliation often played a role in access to government services and social and employment opportunities. Prospects for opposition parties in Kosovo-Serb areas remained limited, however, due to reported pressure and intimidation tactics to influence Kosovo Serbs to support Srpska List. An EU election observer statement noted Srpska List had monopolized political life in Kosovo-Serb communities, thus limiting political competition and voters’ choice. In May, the Kosovo-Serb-led NGO New Social Initiative published a report noting the absence of political pluralism in the Kosovo-Serb community, adding that a perceived lack of freedom and pressure from political and institutional representatives inhibited pluralism.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. NGOs reported, however, that voter turnout among women tended to be much lower than among men. Parties representing the Romani, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, Bosniak, Gorani, and Turkish communities campaigned freely in their native languages.

Vjosa Osmani, a woman, served simultaneously as parliamentary speaker and acting president until her election as president in April. One-third of all cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Kurti’s government were women. In the Assembly, 38 out of 120 members were women, two more than the constitutional quota. A 2020 Freedom House report noted many women in rural areas had been disenfranchised through the practice of family voting, in which the male head of a household casts ballots for the entire family.

Ethnic minorities’ representation in the Assembly was more than proportionate to their share of the population. Political parties representing ethnic minority groups generally reported better cooperation and partnership with the Vetevendosje-led government than with its predecessors.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem. Corruption cases were routinely subject to repeated appeal, and the judicial system often allowed statutes of limitation to expire without trying cases.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Agency and the National Audits Office shared responsibility for combating government corruption. The SPRK filed nine corruption related indictments as of December. A small proportion of corruption cases that were investigated and charged led to convictions. In June the Supreme Court issued corruption sentencing guidelines intended to provide guidance for courts based on consideration of harm and level of culpability.

NGOs and international organizations alleged numerous failures by the judicial system to prosecute corruption, noting that very few cases brought against senior officials resulted in convictions. Sentencing of high-level officials convicted of corruption was often lenient. The NGO Cohu reported that most convictions result in suspended sentences or fines and that only 4 or 5 percent result in imprisonment. NGOs reported indictments often failed because prosecutors filed incorrect charges or made procedural errors.

In April the Court of Appeals dismissed the 2020 conviction of the former mayor of Lipjan/Lipljan, Shukri Buja, citing an expiration of the statute of limitations. Buja was convicted in 2018 for unlawful transfer and expropriation of municipal properties to a private company and abuse of official position and authority, committed from 2008 to 2010. In 2019, the Court of Appeals ordered a retrial, and Buja was reconvicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in September 2020. In January, the Court of Appeals declared some of the charges had passed the statute of limitations, and reduced Buja’s sentence to one year. The Supreme Court ordered a retrial in March, leading to the April court decision to dismiss all charges.

As of November a decision remained pending in the 2019 trial of former minister of agriculture Nenad Rikalo and seven other ministry officials charged with abuse of power. The group allegedly sidestepped legal safeguards and manipulated the ministry’s grant process to award millions of dollars to companies owned by political associates.

Kuwait

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (plus government-appointed ministers) must approve the amir’s choice of crown prince by majority vote conducted by secret ballot. According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah and have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the amir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the December 2020 parliamentary election free and fair, and reported no serious procedural problems. In November 2020 the Interior Ministry announced that 34 of the 395 candidates had been disqualified without explanation, although 20 were later reinstated. One of these candidates was elected to the Parliament. Due to COVID-19 health concerns, the campaign period prior to the election was shorter than normal, and in-person events were not allowed.

Opposition MPs took 24 of the National Assembly’s 50 seats, an increase of 16 seats from the last parliament. Thirty candidates younger than age 45 were elected, while none of the 33 women candidates won seats. In May a by-election was held to fill the seat by Bader al-Dahoum’s judicial disqualification (see section 2, Freedom of Expression). In the May election, which local observers considered free and fair, 15 candidates, including one woman, ran. Opposition figure Obaid al-Wasmi won the seat.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize political parties or allow their formation, although no law formally bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings inside the National Assembly, and members of parliament formed loose alliances. Those convicted of insulting the amir and Islam are banned from running for elected office. In 2019 the Court of Cassation issued a verdict that found citizens convicted of calling for or participating in unregistered demonstrations and protest rallies or resisting security operatives could not vote or stand for public office. Voters may register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21 and having citizenship for 20 years. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections. Annually the Ministries of Interior and Justice work together to purge from voter registration lists the names of those convicted of insulting the amir; cases must reach a final verdict before names can be removed. The election law criminalizes tribal primary elections for member of parliament candidates that take place informally before the official election date. In September, one former and one current member of parliament were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for holding illegal tribal elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Religious minority groups can freely participate in the political process, vote, and run for the National Assembly. LGBTQI+ individuals do not openly participate in the political process due to legal discrimination (see section 6, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. Cultural norms often excluded women from attending local gatherings, called diwaniyas, which candidates attend to lobby for support from influential leaders and voters. The one appointed woman cabinet member can vote within the country’s 50-seat parliament. Although 33 female candidates ran in the December 2020 parliamentary election, no women were elected. Analysts attributed this outcome to widespread discomfort with women in leadership roles and an electoral system that minimized the likelihood of voters allocating their one vote per slate of 10 district candidates to a female candidate. In September, three women were appointed as deputy directors of prosecution for the first time in the country. In October the Ministry of Justice announced that seven female judges assumed leadership roles overseeing misdemeanor court circuits. In November the government appointed 14 new female prosecutors to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, increasing the total number of female prosecutors to 64. As of November the Ministry of Justice had appointed a total of 15 female judges. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were a total of 1,380 prosecutors and judges. As of December 19, the Ministry of Defense permitted women to enlist in the military. Within the first two days, the ministry reported 260 women signed up to join the military.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; the government generally did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Observers believed officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The Anticorruption Authority, known as Nazaha, is charged with receiving and analyzing complaints and forwarding complaints to the appropriate authorities in either the Public Prosecutor’s Office or police for further investigation or action but lacked legal authority to carry out robust anticorruption actions according to several NGOs. Nazaha cannot conduct covert surveillance, execute search warrants, arrest suspects, or enforce compliance with investigatory demands. Nazaha referred received 431 reports of corruption and referred 13 of those cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office as of November. The Public Prosecutor’s Office was investigating 11 of the 13 cases as of November, one case was referred to the courts, and one case was dropped.

There were many reports that individuals had to pay intermediaries to receive routine government services. Police corruption was a problem, especially when one party to a dispute had a personal relationship with a police official involved in a case. There were numerous allegations in the media that police favored citizens over noncitizens. There were several reports of corruption in the procurement and bidding processes for lucrative government contracts.

In March a new law on the right to access information came into effect. The law allows nationals to request information, decisions, and documents from government entities. The chairman of the NGO Kuwait Transparency Society, Majid al-Mutairi, however, reported to local media that many government agencies still did not comply with the law.

All judicial officers received training on corruption and transparency obligations as part of the Judicial Institute’s official curriculum.

Corruption: In August the NGO Kuwait Economic Society announced that the country lost approximately 1.2 billion dinars ($4 billion) annually to corruption. Numerous cases of serious corruption, including government corruption, occurred. Nazaha continued to refer government officials involved in corrupt practices to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, including officers of the Ministry of Interior, for forgery of official documents. In January the Criminal Court issued a life sentence for four European nationals employed by the country’s Health Office in London for stealing public funds and embezzling approximately 4.5 million dinars ($15 million). In March the Cassation Court ordered the release of former minister of health, Ali al-Obaidi, and two undersecretaries who had been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor and ordered to refund 24.5 million dinars ($81 million) to compensate the state for corruption. The Court of Cassation overturned the Court of Ministers’ ruling and cancelled the refund order.

In April the Court of Ministers ordered the pretrial detention of former prime minister and ruling family member, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, for embezzling approximately 242 million dinars ($800 million) in military funds. The Public Prosecutor issued a gag order in 2020 on the publication or circulation of any information related to this case. In October al-Sabah was released on bail for 10,000 dinars ($33,000) and appealed his case. Al-Sabah was awaiting trial at year’s end.

In May the Public Prosecutor’s Office referred eight judges, three lawyers, and six administrators in the Plenary and Appeal Courts to the Criminal Court on charges of bribery, forgery, and money laundering for their connection to a money laundering case initiated in 2020. In September the Court of Cassation upheld the appeal ruling for the imprisonment of former Ministry of Health undersecretaries Khaled al-Sahlaoui and Mahmoud Abdel Hadi for seven years with hard labor and banned them from holding any public sector jobs. The Public Prosecutor’s Office charged the defendants with forgery and bribery during their time at the Ministry of Health. Investigations uncovered widespread use of false academic credentials by citizens and foreign residents in the public and private sectors, exposing fraud and a lack of transparency in the hiring and promotion of officials.

Kyrgyzstan

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. In practice, authorities and party officials responsible for administering elections engaged in some procedural irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Sadyr Japarov was elected on January 10. He had been serving as interim president since October 2020, following political upheaval that resulted in the annulment of parliamentary elections and the forced resignation of his predecessor. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the voting process during the January presidential elections was well organized and free, although it noted that the campaign was dominated by one candidate with disproportionate financial means and administrative resources. It also reported that an overall lack of critical media reporting, partially due to a restrictive legal media framework, limited the voter’s ability to make an informed choice.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate in recent elections. The election code requires the names of male and female parliamentary candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender. The law on elections requires that MPs who resign their mandate be replaced by persons of the same gender. Women held fewer than 10 percent of parliamentary seats.

By law women must be represented in all branches of government and constitute no less than 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented. The elections law does not apply the 30 percent women’s quota for MPs to the new single mandate seats (36 of the total 90 seats in parliament).

Elections were held on November 28 for the 90-seat unicameral parliament. Progovernment parties won a majority of seats. According to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the elections were competitive and generally well run, although it noted significant procedural problems during the vote count and the initial stages of tabulation, and also technical problems with biometric identification equipment and electronic ballot scanners. OSCE/ODIHR reported that election day was peaceful with low voter turnout, and that there was less gender and ethnic diversity in the new parliament. Changes to the electoral law and the shift to a hybrid ballot with both party lists and single mandate district candidates contributed to some confusion among voters and a high rate of spoiled ballots.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On August 27, President Japarov signed a law that reduces the number of members of parliament from 120 to 90, in accordance with the new constitution, and designates 36 seats for single mandate geographic districts, and 54 for proportional division among political parties from the national vote. Political parties will need to obtain at least 5 percent of votes nationally in order to be eligible for parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for public officials convicted of corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. According to Transparency International, the government appears to selectively investigate and prosecute corruption cases. The practice of officials in all levels of law enforcement accepting the payment of bribes to avoid investigation or prosecution remains a major problem. Law enforcement officers, particularly in the southern part of the country, frequently employed arbitrary arrest, torture, and the threat of criminal prosecution as a means of extorting cash payments from citizens (see section 1.d.).

Corruption: The State Committee for National Security is formally empowered to investigate corruption. Prior to the government reorganization initiated by President Japarov’s election in January, this work was carried out by the anticorruption agency of the State Committee for National Security. A June 25 presidential decree, however, revoked the agency’s authority. In February the State Service to Combat Economic Crimes, also known as the Financial Police, which investigated economic crimes, including some corruption-related crimes, was disbanded.

On February 18, authorities again arrested former deputy customs head Raimbek Matraimov for money laundering, but on April 15 the State Committee for National Security announced that the case against Matraimov had been dismissed because it could find no evidence that Matraimov purchased property outside of the country and therefore claimed it had no legal basis to continue its investigation. Matraimov had been identified as the ringleader of a large corruption scheme centered on smuggling goods in and out of the country in a series of joint investigative reports into corruption in the national customs service by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty affiliate Azattyk, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and media organization Kloop, which began in 2019 and continued during the year. The investigation relied upon Aierken Saimaiti, a self-confessed money launderer, who was later killed in Istanbul after he was revealed as the source of the reporting. Saimaiti identified Matraimov as the scheme’s leader, using his official position to move shipments of goods through customs without inspection or fees in exchange for payments from smugglers. In October 2020 the State Committee for National Security arrested Matraimov for operating a corrupt scheme to “extract shadow income during [his] administration of the customs system,” according to a government announcement. Matraimov was granted “economic amnesty” and released on the same day of his arrest after agreeing to pay 2 billion soms (approximately $25,000,000) in restitution, even though investigative reporting indicated his criminal activity resulted in the embezzlement of over $700 million.

Laos

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law denies citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and it did not provide for the free expression of the will of the people. Although the constitution outlines a system comprising executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the constitution grants the LPRP control of governance and leadership in all branches and at all levels.

Elections and Political Participation

The National Assembly appointed election committees which approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but almost all were, and the party vetted all candidates.

The National Assembly chooses or removes the country’s president, vice president, and other members of the government. The National Election Committee manages elections, including approval of candidates. The activities of the National Election Committee were not transparent.

Recent Elections: The most recent elections for National Assembly members were on February 21. The government prohibited independent observers from monitoring polling stations, claiming this was due to COVID-19. Elections were not free and fair; the LPRP selected all candidates for the National Assembly elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution designates the LPRP as the sole legal party. The formation of other political parties is illegal.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s leadership roles were limited, especially in rural areas. Of the population, 80 percent lived in rural areas where the village chief and council handled most routine matters, and fewer than 3 percent of village chiefs were women. The LPRP’s Party Congress elections in January increased the number of female members in the 71-member LPRP Central Committee from seven to 12, and from one to two in the 13-member Politburo. Of the 164 members elected to the National Assembly in February, 36 were women and 29 were members of minority ethnic groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government made some progress in addressing corruption. Many officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Official corruption was widespread and found at all levels of government, and it was acknowledged by government-controlled media. During the year local media reported that investigating agencies uncovered more than 1.5 trillion kip ($323,000) in losses due to corruption and had investigated 24 persons, 16 of whom were government employees. The government anticorruption hotline reportedly was used often, and members of the public frequently raised awareness of government officials’ inappropriate or suspicious activities on social media; such postings were not censored or removed.

Latvia

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: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the parliamentary elections in 2018 as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. It prohibits from holding public office persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and citizen members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women accounted for 32 percent of national parliament candidates and occupied 23 percent of ministerial positions, 30 percent of elected seats in the national parliament, and 34 percent of elected seats in the local councils. Approximately 26 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizen residents who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corru