The 3 islands that form the present state of Comoros were French protectorates at the end of the 19th century and were proclaimed colonies in 1912. Following a referendum in December 1974, the Comoran Chamber of Deputies unilaterally declared the islands' independence on 6 July 1975. Mayotte, the fourth island in the group, opted to remain a French dependency.
Since 1975 there has been continuous political instability characterized by coups and undemocratic regimes. Recent years have been marked by internal political disruptions, and the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli have attempted to secede.
The constitution of 1 October 1978 was amended in 1983, approved in a referendum, and Comoros became a Federal Islamic Republic. Mayotte was permitted the right to join when it so chose. A new constitution was adopted on 20 October 1996. The constitution stipulates that each of the islands has a council and a governor who is appointed by the president. The president is elected by direct universal suffrage for an unlimited number of 5-year terms.
The president appoints the prime minister, who heads the Council of Ministers. There is a bicameral legislative branch, consisting of a 43-member Federal Assembly, the members of which are directly elected for 5-year terms, and a 15-member Senate, made up of 5 members from each island who are selected by regional councils.
Colonel Azali Assoumani staged a bloodless coup on 30 April 1999. He introduced a new constitutional charter giving himself full legislative and executive powers. The Federal Assembly has not met since the coup. Azali promised that he would serve for 1 year at the time he came to power, but the elections promised for spring 2000 were not held. Assoumani has pledged that elections will take place before the end of 2001, and it is expected that this will herald a reopening of the Federal Assembly.
Comoros had a 1,500-man national army in 1997, the Force Comorienne de Defense (FCD), which was supported by a French military contingent. The size of the armed forces has not changed since the coup. The role of the French has been to exert pressure for a return to democratic rule.
The main political forces are continually fragmenting and reforming, and alliances are based mainly on opportunism. The party of government prior to the 1999 coup was the National Union for Democracy in Comoros (NUDC). Other parties are the Republican Party of Comoros (PRC), the Democratic Front (DF), and the Movement for Socialism and Democracy (MSD). These parties are now dormant. They are expected to come to life only when the military government sanctions campaigning for the elections expected in late 2001.
Previously the island governors undertook tax collection, but it became a federal responsibility under a 1983 constitutional revision. Wage and salary earners were taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent in 1987; however, only government employees appear to pay tax, and there has been no attempt at income tax reform in subsequent years. Tax rates have ranged from 17 percent on consumer goods to 60 percent on building materials and cars to 200 percent on luxury goods. Import and export licenses are required but are usually limited to a few favored firms. Tax revenue as a share of expenditure increased from 33 percent in 1994 to 54 percent in 1998, implying an improved ability to meet public sector expenses without relying on aid from overseas. The total tax revenue share of the gross domestic product (GDP) also increased from 13 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 1998.
The overall budget deficit in 1998 was estimated at US$8.4 million, equivalent to 4 percent of the GDP. The nation's external debt at the end of 1997 totaled US$197.4 million, and the cost of debt servicing was about 10 percent of the value of exports in 1998, or slightly below the 15 percent average for African nations. The relatively low debt-servicing ratio means that Comoros has a greater availability of foreign exchange with which to purchase imports.
Comoros is a member of several international organizations. These include the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), which is dedicated to regional cooperation; the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which aims at reducing barriers to trade and the movements of labor and capital; and the Franc Zone, which pegs the currency to the French franc.