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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (BELOW)


Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and has a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, under the SAR’s constitution (the Basic Law). In September residents directly elected 14 of the 33 representatives who comprise the SAR’s Legislative Assembly. In accordance with the Basic Law, limited franchise functional constituencies elected 12 representatives, and the chief executive nominated the remaining seven. A 400-member Election Committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On to a five-year term in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues reported during the year included: constraints on press and academic freedom; limits on citizens’ ability to change their government; and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections, and citizens did not have universal suffrage. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the chief executive, who was chosen in 2014 by a 400-member Election Committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from and by the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 a 400-member selection committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On. Chui ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the vote. The most recent general election for the 14 directly elected seats in the 33-member Legislative Assembly occurred in September. A total of 186 candidates on 24 electoral lists competed for the seats. The election for these seats was generally free and fair, although strict campaign laws limited the ability of political newcomers to compete in the election.

There are limits on the types of bills legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SAR has no laws on political parties. Politically active groups registered as societies or limited liability companies were active in promoting their political agendas. Those critical of the government generally did not face restrictions, but persons seeking elected office were required to swear to uphold the Basic Law. The Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the chief executive’s decision to donate 123 million patacas ($15.4 million) to a mainland university on whose board the chief executive sits. Sou is a member of the New Macau Association, a political group generally critical of the government, and critics claimed his prosecution and suspension were politically motivated.

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

Ireland

Executive Summary

Ireland is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with an executive branch headed by a prime minister, a bicameral parliament, and a directly elected president. The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential election in 2018.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, including in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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: OSCE observers reported that the presidential elections on October 26 and the 2016 parliamentary elections were free and fair.

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

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The nationwide Knesset elections in 2015, which were considered free and fair, resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Knesset voted on December 26 to dissolve itself and set April 9, 2019, as the date for national elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including Palestinian killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention; restrictions on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. In December 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Palestinian Authority exercises no authority over Jerusalem.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases. We have sought and received input from the government of Israel and we have noted responses where applicable.

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 who have permanent residency status may vote in Jerusalem municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but not mayor, and they cannot vote in Knesset elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the October 30 municipal elections and parliamentary elections held in 2015 free and fair. In the October 30 municipal election, 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, but less than 2 percent of eligible Palestinian residents of Jerusalem did so. Police arrested and subsequently released four Fatah activists in the Jabal Mukabber and Sur Baher neighborhoods of Jerusalem for attempting to interfere with Palestinian residents of Jerusalem participating in the municipal elections.

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. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference. The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of prohibiting its members from running for local or national office and boycotting elections.

In 2017 the Knesset passed a law restricting 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 an MK if 90 of 120 MKs voted for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member could replace the MK with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member could run in the next election. On May 27, the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to this law from Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen and two NGOs. They argued the government intended the law to target Arab legislators, and it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities 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 participated widely in politics, including in leadership positions. As of November 20, the 120-member Knesset had 35 female members and 18 members from ethnic or religious minorities (12 Muslims, three Druze, two Ethiopian-Israelis, and one Christian). As of September the 23-member cabinet included four women and one Druze minister. One woman was a deputy minister; there were no Arabs. Aida Touma Suliman, an Arab, chaired a permanent committee in the Knesset, the Committee on the Status of Women. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Following the October 30 municipal elections, the number of women mayors and local council heads increased from six to 14 of a total of 257.

On September 3, in response to a lawsuit against the ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Israel, the party told the Supreme Court it would change its regulations to allow women to run as candidates.

According to Adalah, the estimated 6,000 residents of the recognized Bedouin village of al-Fura’a were unable to vote in the October 30 municipal elections because the village had not been assigned to a regional council. The government stated that efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to create a plan of action for the village, including assigning jurisdiction to a local authority, remained underway as of the end of the year.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the Republic, who is the head of state, nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. International observers considered the national parliamentary elections on March 4 to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of libel, crimes involving violence targeting members of minority groups, and the use of forced or compulsory or child labor.

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

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 parliamentary elections on March 4 to be free and fair.

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

Jamaica

Executive Summary

Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In national elections in 2016, the Jamaica Labour Party led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness won 32 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. The party gained an additional seat in an October 2017 by-election to increase its majority in parliament to 33-30. International and local election observers deemed the elections transparent, free, and fair but noted isolated incidents of violence leading up to and on election day. Observers deemed the by-election transparent, free, fair, and peaceful.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary detention; and corruption by officials. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex activity between men, but the government did not enforce the law during the year.

The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there was a general sense that full and swift accountability for some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses remained elusive.

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: Since the 2016 national elections, the country held by-elections in October 2017 and in March to fill four seats in parliament. The Jamaica Labour Party maintained a majority in parliament of 33 of 63 members in the House of Representatives. Observers judged all recent elections to be transparent, free, and fair.

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

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister in 2012. Lower House elections in October 2017, which Prime Minister Abe’s party won with a large majority, were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

A human rights concern was criminal libel laws, although there was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the reporting.

The government enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them.

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: A snap election for the Lower House of the Diet called by the government in October 2017 was free and fair. Prime Minister Abe was confirmed in office when his Liberal Democratic Party won 47.8 percent of the vote in single-seat districts and 33.2 percent of the proportional representation system, taking 283 of the 465 seats in the Lower House of parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men did; in national elections since the late 1960s, women have an absolute majority of voters, according to data by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Women, however, have not been elected to office, at any level, at rates reflecting this or equivalent to rates in other developed democracies.

In May the country implemented a law to promote women’s participation in electoral politics. The 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. Women held 47 of 465 seats in the Diet’s Lower House and 50 of 242 seats in the Upper House after the October 2017 Lower House election. Women held one of the 20 seats in the cabinet following an October cabinet shuffle but none of the four senior posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. At the end of the year, there were three female governors in the 47 prefectures.

Because some ethnic minority group members are of mixed heritage and did not self-identify, it was difficult to determine their numbers in the Diet, but a number were represented.

Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the king. The multiparty parliament consists of the 65-member House of Notables (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king and a 130-member elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab). Elections for the Chamber of Deputies occur approximately every four years and last took place in 2016. International observers deemed the elections organized, inclusive, credible, and technically well run.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

Impunity remained widespread, although the government took limited, nontransparent steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes was not publicly available.

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, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process is well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone. Elections for the lower house of parliament took place in 2016. Elections for mayors, governorate councils, and municipal councils took place in August 2017.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in 2016. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) administered the polls. The commission is an autonomous legal entity. It supervises and administers all phases of parliamentary elections, regional and municipal elections, as well as other elections called by the Council of Ministers. Local and foreign monitors noted the election was technically well administered. Politicians and activists reported most government interference occurred prior to the election, in the form of channeling support to preferred candidates and pressuring others not to run.

The election exhibited important technical competence in administration, but observers cited allegations of vote buying, ballot box tampering in one region, and other abuses. International and domestic observers of the election process expressed reservations about inadequacies in the electoral legal framework and stressed the need to allocate seats to districts proportionally based on population size.

Several Islamist parties participated in the 2016 parliamentary election, ending a six-year boycott. The Islamic Action Front won 15 seats, including 10 for party members.

The August 2017 governorate and municipal elections marked the first time the IEC administered subnational elections, since the Ministry of Interior conducted them until a 2014 constitutional amendment granted the IEC more authority. In addition to the election of mayors and local councils, the poll resulted in the election of new governorate-level councils. Many monitors praised the elections as technically well run, but a nongovernment elections monitoring body, Rased, registered more than 500 illegal incidents.

The elections took place under a decentralization law passed by parliament and ratified by the king in 2015. The law established an additional council to participate in the budgeting process at the governorate level; it is 85 percent elected and 15 percent appointed. The new council will work with the existing executive council, which is fully appointed. The appointed council is composed of technical experts from the central government.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Parties Law places supervisory authority of political parties in the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. Political parties must have 150 founding members, all of whom must be citizens habitually resident in the country and not be members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, or affiliated with the security services. There is no quota for women when founding a new political party. Parties may not be formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin (meaning that they may not make membership dependent on any of these factors). The law stipulates citizens may not be prosecuted for their political party affiliation. Most politicians believed that the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform. A 2016 bylaw stipulates 50,000 JD ($70,000) annual financial support from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to registered political parties older than one year with more than 500 members from at least seven governorates, at least 10 percent of whom are women. The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes a representative from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, the National Center for Human Rights, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws; or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties. There were approximately 50 registered political parties, but they were weak, generally had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Islamic Action Front.

At least one new political party successfully registered in late 2017. The party, however, postponed the official launch event in December 2017, when the Greater Amman Municipality initially blocked the rally due to “security concerns.” The launch event occurred in early 2018.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain 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. There are quotas for women in the lower house of parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems tended to be small minorities in national and local legislative bodies and executive branch leadership positions.

The 29-member cabinet included seven female ministers: the minister of information and communications, the minister of public sector development, the minister of tourism and antiquities, the minister of planning and international cooperation, the minister of energy and mineral resources, the minister of culture, and the minister of social development. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, of 1,783 total municipal council seats. At the local council (neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and 324 through the quota system of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

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 or on the national list. Seven Christians were in the upper house of parliament, with one, subsequently, leaving in June when appointed deputy prime minister. 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 and ambassadors. There were four Christian ministers in the cabinet. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government system and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. The presidential administration controls the government, the legislature, and judiciary as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The 2015 presidential election, in which President Nazarbayev received 98 percent of the vote, was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition. The president’s Nur Otan Party won 82 percent of the vote in the 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observation mission judged the country continued to require considerable progress to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections. In June 2017 the country selected 16 of 47 senators and members of the parliament’s upper house in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in concurrence with the presidential administration.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; political prisoners; censorship; site blocking; criminalization of libel; restrictions on religion; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and restrictions on independent trade unions.

The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases; corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for those in positions of authority as well as for those connected to government or law enforcement officials.

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.

Although the 2017 constitutional amendments increased legislative and executive branch authority in some spheres, the constitution continues to concentrate power in the presidency itself. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. Parliament has never failed to confirm a presidential nomination. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent. Constitutional amendments exempt the president from the two-term presidential term limit and protect him from prosecution.

The law on the first president–the “Leader of the Nation” law–established President Nazarbayev as chair of the Kazakhstan People’s Assembly and of the Security Council for life, granted him 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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An early presidential election in 2015 gave President Nazarbayev 97.5 percent of the vote. According to the New York Times newspaper, his two opponents, who both supported the Nazarbayev government, were seen as playing a perfunctory role as opposition candidates. The OSCE stated that the election process in most cases was managed effectively, although the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission stated voters were not given a choice of political alternatives and noted that both “opposition” candidates had openly praised Nazarbayev’s achievements. Some voters reportedly had been pressured to vote for the incumbent.

In June 2017 16 of the 47 members of the Senate were selected by members of maslikhats–local representative bodies–acting as electors to represent each oblast (administrative region) and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Four incumbent senators were re-elected, and the majority of the newly elected senators were affiliated with the ruling Nur Otan Party.

As a result of early Mazhilis elections in 2016, the ruling Nur Otan Party won 84 seats, Ak Zhol won seven seats, and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won seven seats. The ODIHR reported widespread ballot stuffing and inflated vote totals. The ODIHR criticized the election for falling short of the country’s democratic commitments. The legal framework imposed substantial restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights. On election day serious procedural errors and irregularities were noted during voting, counting, and tabulation.

In June the government amended the election law, reducing the independence of local representative bodies (maslikhats). Previously, citizens could nominate and vote for candidates running in elections for the maslikhats. Under the amended law, citizens vote for parties and parties choose who sits on the maslikhats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties.

There were six political parties registered, including Ak Zhol, Birlik, and the People’s Patriotic Party “Auyl” (merged from the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Social Democratic Party). The parties generally did not oppose President Nazarbayev’s policies.

To register, a political party must hold a founding congress with a minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates, including representatives from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 600 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty, registration from the Central Election Commission (CEC), and registration from each oblast-level election commission.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics.

Kenya

Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president and deputy president, parliamentarians, and county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won reelection as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities in the transmission and verification of the poll tabulations. The court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president, which the opposition boycotted. The IEBC declared President Kenyatta the winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results on November 20, 2017.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful and politically motivated killings; forced disappearances; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; an inefficient judiciary; arbitrary infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; censorship; lack of accountability in many cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) established to provide civilian oversight over the work of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem, despite public statements by the president and deputy president addressing the issue and police and judicial reforms. The government took only limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the IPOA continued to increase its capacity and referred cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common. President Kenyatta intensified his anticorruption campaign launched in 2015, and the inspector general of police continued his strong public stance against corruption among police officers.

Al-Shabaab terrorists conducted deadly attacks and guerilla-style raids on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. Human rights groups alleged that security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.

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 the Carter Center, judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups raised concerns about 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 (NASA). NASA challenged the results in a petition to the Supreme Court. In September 2017 the court ruled in NASA’s favor, annulling the presidential elections and citing the 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, saying 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 people’s assemblies across the country to discuss constitutional revisions to restructure the government and the elections process. On January 30, 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 on March 9 and pledged to work together towards national unity.

To reduce voter fraud, the government used a biometric voter registration system, first used in 2013. Possession of a national identity card or passport was a prerequisite for voter registration. According to media reports, political parties were concerned about hundreds of thousands of national identity cards produced but never collected from National Registration Bureau offices around the country, fearing that their supporters would not be able to vote. Ethnic Somalis and Muslims in the coast region and ethnic Nubians in Nairobi complained of discriminatory treatment in the issuance of registration cards, noting that authorities sometimes asked them to produce documentation proving their parents were citizens.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Voting rates and measures of other types of participation in the political process by women and members of minorities remained lower than those of 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 (the Two-Third Gender Rule). The Supreme Court set an initial August 2016 deadline for implementation of this provision, but that passed without action and the National Assembly failed to meet a second deadline in May 2017. In August 2017 two NGOs filed a petition for the High Court to declare the composition of the National Assembly and Senate unconstitutional for failure to meet the Two-Third Gender rule. The petition had not been heard as of November. During the year men composed the entirety of the leadership of the National Assembly, unlike the previous parliament, in which both the deputy speaker and deputy majority leader were women. The cabinet also did not conform to the two-thirds rule; President Kenyatta appointed six women to the cabinet, representing 21 percent of the seats.

A September 2017 forum on Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE) that included the Elections Observation Group and the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA) identified significant barriers to women’s participation in the political process. The chief concerns were violence and insecurity stemming from economic and financial intimidation, harassment based on perceived levels of sexual or moral purity, threats of divorce, and other familial or social sanctions. The 2013 study by FIDA and the National Democratic Institute, A Gender Audit of Kenya’s 2013 Election Process, highlighted challenges particular to female candidates, including irregularities in political party primaries that prevented women from competing in elections and the consistent failure of political parties to adhere to their own stated procedures for choosing candidates. FIDA reported a drop in verifiable VAWIE cases from 5,000 in 2013 to 300 in 2017, but identified serious political backlash for reporting abuses, harassment, or discrimination within the political parties.

The overall success rate of women candidates who ran for positions in the 2017 national elections was 16 percent, with 47 women elected to the National Assembly and three to the Senate. Women were elected to three of the 47 governorships. The constitution provides for the representation in government of ethnic minorities, but implementation was incomplete. The constitution also calls for persons with disabilities to hold a minimum of 5 percent of seats in the Senate and National Assembly. According to an October report by the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), persons with disabilities comprised only 2.8 percent of the Senate and National Assembly.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic. The president exercises executive authority. Following legislative elections, the House of Assembly nominates at least three and no more than four presidential candidates from among its members, and the public then elects the president for a four-year term. Citizens elected Taneti Maamau president in March 2016. Observers considered the election free and fair. Observers considered two-stage parliamentary elections held in December 2015 and January 2016 free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; criminalization of sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses and impunity was not a problem.

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 presidential election held in March 2016 free and fair. The legislature has 45 members. Of that number, 43 are elected by universal adult suffrage; the Rabi Island Council of I-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji elects one; and the attorney general is an ex officio member. Two-step parliamentary elections held in December 2015 and January 2016 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process. Their participation was low, largely due to traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. Three women were elected to the legislature in 2016. The same year, parliament appointed the country’s first female attorney general; several women served as permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries in the administration.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

Kosovo is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution and laws provide for an elected unicameral parliament, the Assembly, which in turn elects a president, whose choice of prime minister the Assembly must approve. The country held parliamentary elections in June 2017 that international observers considered free and fair. The Assembly elected Hashim Thaci as president in 2016.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces.

Human rights issues included refoulement; endemic government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against journalists; and attacks against members of ethnic minorities or other marginalized communities, including by security forces.

The government sometimes took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Many in the government, the opposition, civil society, and the media believed that senior officials engaged in corruption with impunity.

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 some illegal parallel government structures in Serb majority municipalities and majority Serb and majority Gorani areas in the southern part of the country.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections–including in northern Kosovo–took place in June 2017. International and independent observers evaluated the vote as generally free and fair. The campaign was marked, however, by a pattern of intimidation within Kosovo-Serb communities. Some Kosovo Serbs reportedly pressured fellow Kosovo Serbs not to support parties other than the pro-Serbian Srpska List, and candidates not affiliated with Srpska List were pressured to withdraw from the race.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In most of the country, political parties operated freely, and there were no significant barriers to registration. In the four northern Serb majority municipalities, opposition representatives reported threats of violence by the Serbia-affiliated Srpska List party during 2017 elections. Party affiliation sometimes played a role in access to government services and social and employment opportunities. In March, members of the Vetevendosje party released tear gas during debate at the Assembly building in an attempt to block the ratification of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. The members were arrested and subsequently released. No indictments had been issued by the end of the year.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. NGOs reported, however, that the voter turnout among women tended to be much lower than for male voters, a pattern observed in the 2017 elections.

Ethnic minorities’ representation in the Assembly was more than proportionate to their share in the population, but political parties representing ethnic minorities criticized majority parties for not consulting them on important issues. NGOs reported participation of Kosovo Serbs nearly matched the national rate in the 2017 elections, and parties representing Roma, Ashkali, Balkan Egyptian, Bosniak, Gorani, and Turkish communities campaigned freely in their native languages.

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the emir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The last parliamentary election was held in 2016 and was generally free and fair with members of the opposition winning seats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual adult male same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor, principally among foreign workers.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity, however, was a problem in corruption cases.

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 (along with government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, approve the emir’s choice of crown prince (the future emir). According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the emir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the 2016 parliamentary election free and fair and found no serious procedural problems. The election followed the emir’s October 2016 order to dissolve the National Assembly because of “mounting security challenges and volatile regional developments.” Most opposition politicians and their supporters who boycotted the 2013 election returned and participated without incident. Official turnout for the 2016 elections was approximately 70 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize any political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings, and MPs formed loose alliances. In June 2016 the National Assembly amended the election law to bar those convicted of insulting the emir and Islam from running for elected office. Voters register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. In the 2016 elections, 15 women filed candidate applications with one woman successfully winning a seat. Women registered to vote at a higher rate than men. Two appointed women cabinet members also serve in the country’s 65-seat parliament. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, male candidates from the Shia community, which comprised approximately one-third of the citizen population, won six seats in parliament.

There were no female public prosecutors in the country until the first group of 21 was recruited in 2015. While no legal provisions prohibit women from appointment as judges, none has been appointed, as yet, because no women have yet met the threshold of five years of service as a prosecutor required to be considered. After not hiring female prosecutors for two years, the Supreme Judicial Council accepted a new group of 30 female prosecutors in July. As more female candidates are regularly hired by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, a larger pool of female candidates will become eligible to serve as judges after 2020.

Kyrgyz Republic

Executive Summary

The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government designed to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. During presidential elections in October 2017, the nation elected former prime minister and member of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to succeed outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the elections as competitive and well administered, but it noted room for improvement in the legal framework to prevent misuse of public resources in election campaigns and to effectively deter vote buying.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included law enforcement and security services officers’ use of torture and arbitrary arrest; site blocking and criminal libel in practice; pervasive corruption; human trafficking, including forced labor; attacks and other bias-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and members of ethnic minority groups; violence against women and forced marriage; and child labor.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute or punish officials known to have committed human rights abuses, especially those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.

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 there were some procedural irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2017 voters elected former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov as president, with approximately 55 percent of the total vote. The OSCE deemed the elections competitive with 11 candidates who were generally able to campaign freely; however, cases of misuse of administrative resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remained a concern.

In March security services filed criminal charges against the runner-up in the 2017 election, Omurbek Babanov, for plotting “seizure of power and the organization of mass riots.” Previously, in November 2017 the PGO had charged Babanov with “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order” and “incitement of religious or ethnic strife” (criminal code Article 299) in connection with Babanov’s comments at a campaign rally. According to media reports, Babanov was residing outside of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Members of parliament are selected through a national “party list” system. After voting occurred, party leaders regularly reordered the lists, often to the disadvantage of women. In 2017 an amendment to the law on elections requires that members of parliament who resign their mandate be replaced by persons of the same gender.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. 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. As of November fewer than 10 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women.

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.

Laos

Executive Summary

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is ruled by its only constitutionally legitimate party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The most recent National Assembly election held in 2016 was not free and fair. The LPRP selected all candidates, and voting is mandatory for all citizens. Following the election the National Assembly approved Thongloun Sisoulith to be the new prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary detention; political prisoners; censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and trafficking in persons.

The government neither prosecuted nor punished officials who committed abuses, and police and security forces committed human rights abuses with impunity.

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 LPRP controlled governance and leadership at all levels through its constitutionally designated leading role.

Elections and Political Participation

The National Assembly appointed election committees, which must 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, including those in the 2016 National Assembly election. In 2016 the National Assembly began to decentralize its power by establishing provincial councils composed of 360 members countrywide selected from 508 candidates. Most candidates were either government staff or party members.

The National Assembly chooses or removes the country’s president, vice president, and other members of the government. The Standing Committee, which comprised the National Assembly’s president, vice president, and committee heads, supervises all administrative and judicial organizations; has sole power to recommend presidential decrees; and appoints the National Election Committee, which has authority over elections, including approval of candidates. The activities of the Standing Committee and the National Election Committee were not transparent. The National Assembly exerted public oversight over the executive branch.

Recent Elections: The most recent national election for National Assembly members was in 2016. The government allowed independent observers to monitor the election process; the LPRP selected all candidates. Several of the observers were members of the diplomatic corps in the country, as well as foreign press. The government determined which polling stations the various observers could visit, and these selected polling stations were reportedly better prepared and organized than others not under observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution legitimizes only the LPRP. The formation of other political parties is illegal.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. 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 2016 increased the number of ethnic minority members in the 69-member LPRP Central Committee from seven to 15, and from two to three in the 11-member Politburo. The number of ethnic minority ministers in the 27-member cabinet increased from two to six, including a deputy prime minister.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered the elections on October 6 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses in some instances, although significant concerns remained regarding accountability on corruption-related issues.

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 October 6 parliamentary elections 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. The election law prohibits 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 from holding office.

On August 21, the Central Election Commission removed Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of the European Parliament and the leader of the Latvian Russian Union political party, from the party’s ticket for the 2018 parliamentary election. The decision was based on a court ruling from 1999 that found Zdanoka was an active member of the Communist Party after January 1991, which under the law made her ineligible to run in the parliamentary elections. Zdanoka unsuccessfully appealed the ban to the Administrative District Court.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Approximately 31 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizen residents who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister. In 2016 parliament elected Michel Aoun to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Following the June 2017 passage of the country’s new electoral law, the government held parliamentary elections in May after parliament extended its legal term three times between 2013 and 2017. The elections were peaceful and considered generally fair and free from regional influence. President Michel Aoun directed Prime Minister Designate Saad Hariri to form a government. At year’s end, the process for forming a government was still underway.

Civilian authorities maintained control over the armed forces and other security forces, although Palestinian security and militia forces, the designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) Hizballah, and other extremist elements operated outside the direction or control of government officials.

The Syrian conflict affected the country economically and socially. It generated an influx of more than one million refugees and strained the country’s already weak infrastructure and ability to deliver social services.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by nonstate actors; allegations of torture by security forces; excessive periods of pretrial detention; undue and increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including laws criminalizing libel and a number of forms of political expression; official corruption; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; and forced or compulsory child labor.

Although the legal structure provides for prosecution and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses, enforcement remained a problem, and government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Michel Aoun was elected President of the Republic in October 2016, ending two and a half years of political stalemate. Following the 2017 passage of a new electoral law, the government held its first parliamentary election since 2009 on May 6. Observers concluded that the election was generally free and fair.

For the first time, voters used preprinted ballots, which reduced opportunities for fraud.

Monitors observed that family members or other acquaintances “helped” elderly or disabled voters cast their ballots, often standing with them in the private voting booth. The new electoral law allowed citizens living outside Lebanon to vote from abroad in several countries.

NGOs and observers raised concerns about vote buying and bribes, particularly with respect to media broadcasting. Representatives of nontraditional parties or alliances–many belonging to “civil society” lists–alleged that election authorities did not always enforce laws meant to limit campaign expenses, and there was a public perception that some candidates paid for their positions on party lists or used patronage networks to provide voters with incentives, including cash or promises of employment. Prior to the elections, there were some reports of limited, sporadic violence between candidate supporters. Security services responded quickly to these incidents.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, there were significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004 no woman held a cabinet position, and there were only four female ministers subsequently. During the year one woman served in the cabinet. Only six of 128 members of parliament were women, and most were close relatives of previous male members. Female leadership of political parties was limited, although three parties introduced voluntary quotas for their membership and one party (Lebanese Forces) appointed a woman as its secretary general in 2016, the first woman ever to hold the post in a major Lebanese political party. In September 2017 parliament approved a law that allows women to run in municipal elections in their native towns instead of the municipality of their spouses.

Minorities participated in politics. Regardless of the number of its adherents, authorities allocated every government-recognized religion, except Coptic Christianity, Ismaili Islam, and Judaism, at least one seat in parliament. Voters elected three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) in this year’s elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women. These groups also held high positions in government and the LAF.

Since refugees are not citizens, they have no political rights. An estimated 17 Palestinian factions operated in the country, generally organized around prominent individuals. Most Palestinians lived in refugee camps that one or more factions controlled. Palestinian refugee leaders were not elected, but there were popular committees that met regularly with UNRWA and visitors.

Lesotho

Executive Summary

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary government. Under the constitution, the king is head of state but does not actively participate in political activities. The prime minister is head of government and has executive authority. In March 2017 former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a vote of confidence and in June 2017 a snap election. All major parties accepted the outcome, and Motsoahae Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention Party (ABC) formed a coalition government and became prime minister. Mosisili transferred power peacefully to Thabane, and Mosisili’s Democratic Congress Party has since led the parliamentary opposition. Local and international observers assessed the election as peaceful, credible, and transparent.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. During the year civilian control over the army improved following a change in command of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF). In December 2017 the government requested additional Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops to foster stability as the government moved forward with SADC-recommended security-sector reforms. The SADC accepted the government’s request to extend the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) and later issued a May 2019 deadline for completion of constitutional and security reforms.

Human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; torture; restrictions on media freedom; corruption; lack of timely accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape; and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute army members and police accused of committing human rights abuses, and punished those convicted.

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 March 2017 parliament passed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, triggering a chain of events that led to early elections. In June 2017 parliamentary elections were held in which the opposition ABC party won 51 of 120 seats and formed a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party, and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

In June 2017 former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili peacefully handed power to Motsoahae Thomas Thabane. Domestic and international observers characterized the election as peaceful and conducted in a credible, transparent, and professional manner. Observers expressed concern, however, regarding LDF presence at polling places in some constituencies; there were no reports otherwise of the LDF interfering in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. Women participated in the political process, but there were no members of racial or ethnic minority groups in the National Assembly, Senate, or cabinet. The law provides for the allocation of one-third of the seats in the municipal, urban, and community councils to women. The law also states a political party registered with the Independent Electoral Commission must facilitate the full participation of women, youth, and persons with disabilities. Party lists for the 40 proportional representation seats in the National Assembly must include equal numbers of women and men.

Liberia

Executive Summary

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2017 that domestic and international observers deemed generally free and fair; the first round of voting for the presidency and 73 seats in the House of Representatives occurred in October followed by a presidential runoff election in December. Days after the presidential runoff election, the National Elections Commission (NEC) declared the Coalition for Democratic Change candidates George Weah president and Jewel Howard-Taylor vice president for a six-year term. Vacated Senate seats held by the president and vice president prompted by-elections on July 31 that were peaceful and credible. Likewise, on November 20, by-elections to fill two other vacated seats were peaceful and credible.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, although lapses occurred.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by police; arbitrary and prolonged detention by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; undue restrictions on the press; criminal libel despite progress to enact legislation decriminalizing press offenses; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women due to government inaction in some instances, including rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and child labor, including its worst forms.

Impunity for individuals who committed atrocities during the civil wars, as well as for those responsible for current and continuing crimes, remained a serious problem; the government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Corruption at all levels of government continued to undermine public trust in state institutions.

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 presidential and legislative elections in October 2017. A runoff presidential election was scheduled for November, but it was delayed due to a legal challenge to the October results. The Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision in December 2017 that there was insufficient evidence presented by the appellant political parties (Unity Party and Liberty Party) to justify a rerun, which quelled rising tensions around the country. The court ordered the NEC to schedule the runoff in accordance with the constitution and specified some remedial actions to be taken by the NEC, such as cleaning up duplications in the final registration roll of voters. The NEC scheduled the presidential runoff election for December 2017. Senator George Weah won the presidential runoff in elections that were generally considered free and fair. In the first round, in October 2017, 75 percent of citizens voted, and 56 percent participated in the runoff elections.

According to a report by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the 2017 general elections saw peaceful youth involvement in the campaign process, as opposed to the 2005 and 2011 general elections when political parties and candidates used young supporters to initiate disturbances and violent protests.

On July 31, the country held by-elections to fill Senate seats vacated by the president and vice president. The elections were peaceful and credible, but there was low voter turnout; 29 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Bong County while 15 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Montserrado County. On November 20, the country held by-elections to fill two legislative vacancies; elections were credible and peaceful, although a November 17 scuffle between supporters of two opposing candidates resulted in one individual being taken to the hospital and subsequently released.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in politics as compared with the participation of men. Women participated at significantly lower levels than men as party leaders and as elected officials. Election law requires that political parties “endeavor to ensure 30 percent” female participation. While this provision has no enforcement mechanism, there was a 16 percent uptick in the number of female candidates listed for the legislative race of the 2017 election cycle. The NEC reported that women represented 49 percent of all voters during the first round of presidential and legislative elections, but as of December had not released final numbers.

Muslim citizens were active participants in the 2017 elections, but faced discrimination as both candidates and voters. NDI observers reported numerous instances of hate speech against Muslim candidates including by fellow candidates. Moreover, several Muslim groups noted other forms of discrimination when trying to register to vote, including a group of women in hijab who were told they had to remove their head coverings completely for their registration photo, when non-Muslim women wearing traditional head coverings were not told to remove them. The case was raised to the level of the NEC, which promptly issued guidance to NEC staff to allow women to wear the hijab in registration photos. The Liberian Muslim Women Network did not report any issues related to identification photos since the election. Discrimination also occurred against the Mandingo ethnic community. NDI received reports that some polling staff prevented Mandingo voters from registering or voting and accused them of being noncitizens.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya is a parliamentary democracy with a temporary Constitutional Declaration that allows for the exercise of a full range of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected the interim legislature, the House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The Libyan Political Agreement, which members of the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue signed in 2015, created the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Political mediation efforts led by the United Nations aim to support passing a constitution and holding new elections to replace interim bodies that have governed Libya since the 2011 revolution with permanent state institutions.

The government had limited effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by extralegal armed groups, ISIS, criminal gangs, and militias, including those affiliated with the government; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression ; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between political and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, and the presence of terrorist groups in some areas of the country severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability or willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants, levied indictments, and opened prosecutions of abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out.

Conflict continued during the year in the west between GNA-aligned armed groups and various nonstate actors. The Libyan National Army (LNA), under its commander Khalifa Haftar, is not under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA. Haftar controlled territory in the east and parts of south. Extralegal armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. The GNA formally integrated some of the armed groups into the Ministry of Interior during the year. ISIS maintained a limited presence, primarily in the central desert region, areas south of Sirte and in Bani Walid, and in urban areas along the western coast. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups also operated in the country, particularly in and around Derna and in the southwest.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) successfully administered the election of members to the HoR, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. An estimated 42 percent of registered voters went to the polls to choose 200 members from among 1,714 candidates. International and domestic observers, representatives of media, and accredited guests mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities. The Libyan Association for Democracy, the largest national observation umbrella group, cited minor technical problems and inconsistencies, but stated polling was generally well organized. Violence and widespread threats to candidates, voters, and electoral officials on election day affected 24 polling centers, most notably in Sabha, Zawiya, Awbari, Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna. Eleven seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community, and violence at a number of polling centers that precluded a final vote. The term of the HoR has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015.

On December 6, HNEC Chairman Emad Sayegh announced his agency would begin voter registration for a constitutional referendum, the date of which has not yet been fixed. On May 2, two ISIS militants carried out a suicide bombing attack against the HNEC headquarters in Tripoli, killing 11.

In May the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the results of the municipal elections in Zawiya, in northwestern Libya in which 63 percent of the individuals who were registered to vote participated. Municipal elections also took place in Bani Walid and Darj in September, despite an arson attack against an elections headquarters in Bani Walid by individuals protesting the initial results and an armed attack on one of the polling stations in Darj.

The LNA appointed military figures as municipal mayors in many areas it controlled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability. The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits those who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office.

The HoR voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women within the HoR; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 21 women in the HoR during the year. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the HoR.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a multiparty constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. Prince Hans Adam II is the official head of state, although in 2004 Hereditary Prince Alois assumed the day-to-day duties of head of state, exercising the rights of office on behalf of the reigning prince. The unicameral parliament (Landtag) nominates, and the monarch appoints, members of the government. Five ministers, three from the Progressive Citizens’ Party and two from the Patriotic Union, formed a coalition government following free and fair parliamentary elections in February 2017.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

As a hereditary monarchy, the country’s line of succession is restricted to male descendants of the Liechtenstein dynasty.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2017, the country held parliamentary elections. There were no reports of irregularities.

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

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Lithuania is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority resides in a unicameral parliament (Seimas) and executive authority resides in the Office of the President. Observers evaluated the 2014 presidential elections and the 2016 parliamentary elections as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

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

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 elections, including a runoff between the two candidates receiving the most votes, took place in 2014. Parliamentary elections took place in 2016. Observers evaluated these elections as generally free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for freedom of association, which includes membership in political parties and organizations, although the government continued to prohibit the Communist Party.

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

Luxembourg

Executive Summary

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a constitutional monarchy and a democratic parliamentary form of government with a popularly elected unicameral Chamber of Deputies (parliament). The prime minister is the leader of the dominant party or party coalition in parliament. On October 14, the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government prosecuted officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who allegedly committed human rights abuses, and there was no impunity for such abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 14, the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires that 40 percent of the party candidate lists submitted for national elections be from “the under-represented gender.” If a party fails to meet the quota, the law provides a graduated scheme of reducing its yearly financial endowment from the government, based on the extent of failure to meet the criteria. The country’s five major parties all met the 40 percent criterion in their candidate lists for the parliamentary elections.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future