Opposition Candidates Call for New Elections in Comoros

A woman casts her vote in the March 24 election. ( Africa Feeds )

A woman casts her vote in the March 24 election. (Africa Feeds)

In Comoros, opposition candidates have challenged the integrity of the March 24 re-election of President Azali Assoumani. The Independent National Electoral Commission reported that Assoumani received 61 percent of the vote with a 54 percent voter turnout, enough to avoid a second-round run-off election.

Comoros has a long history of political instability and elections lacking transparency. Since gaining independence from France in 1975, Comoros has had more than 20 coups or attempted seizures of power. Assoumani himself is a former army officer who first came to power in a coup in 1999 and has served as president for ten of the past 20 years, winning elections in 2002 and 2016. The presidency in Comoros has traditionally rotated among leaders of the three islands of the archipelago, Ngazidja, Mwali, and Ndzouani.

Last week’s elections came after much controversy. The Supreme Court recently blocked the main opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Soule, and at least six other candidates from running. Additionally, Assoumani won a referendum last year, which allowed him to change the constitution, extending the presidential term limit for himself until 2029, which triggered months of protests. The change also modified the system of rotating power among the archipelago’s three main islands to ten years instead of five. This second change sparked outrage among natives of the island of Anjouan who argue that it is their turn in the traditional rotation system to hold the presidency.

Mohamed Soilihi, a candidate, spoke on behalf of the other 11 candidates, “We want new elections to take place as soon as possible. We object to the polls being organized by the current electoral body.” Before the polls had even closed on March 24, opposition candidates claimed the elections were rigged, alleging assaults on candidates and the arrests of opposition supporters. Observers from the African Union, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, and the African Standby Forces of the East stated that the elections were highly irregular and lacked credibility or transparency.

On March 28, opposition groups demanded that the vote be invalidated by April 3 and otherwise called for civil disobedience and a general strike starting on April 4. Police arrested Soilihi promptly after this announcement. Several hours following statements by the opposition leaders invalidating the election, a shootout transpired near the main military base in the capital city of Moroni. The shootout occurred as several renegade soldiers, who had been jailed for plotting a coup last year, broke out of prison. At least three people were killed.

About 45 percent of the total population lies below the poverty line in the small but densely populated nation. Inadequate healthcare, poor education, and fast population growth are the main contributing factors to Comoros’s high poverty rate. Though a new growth policy was established in 2014, the country needs strong and coordinated leadership to improve domestic conditions. New developments could prove crucial for the future of Comoros’s democracy and economic growth.