Comoros opposition alleges irregularities in vote


A Comoros opposition leader alleged irregularities in parliamentary elections on Sunday which are likely to determine whether the Indian Ocean nation’s president can stay in power after he is supposed to stand down.

One of the new assembly’s first tasks will be to ratify or reject a “Yes” vote in a referendum last May to prolong President Ahmed Abdalla Sambi’s term, which ends next year.

The opposition has warned that any evidence of rigging risked destabilising the politically volatile archipelago.

“The measures taken in order to avoid fraud are not being followed through in all constituencies,” opposition leader Houmed Msaidie told Reuters.

Not all ballot papers were being signed off by the heads of polling stations and election observers during Sunday’s second round of voting, he said.

Sambi took over the presidency, which rotates between the archipelago’s three main islands, in 2006 in the first democratic handover since independence from France in 1975.

Under this system he is due to step down next May but earlier this year Comorians voted to extend Sambi’s mandate by a year and streamline the convoluted federal political system.

Local observers say parliament is expected to pass a bill endorsing the referendum result if Sambi’s ruling coalition wins a majority in the assembly.

Sambi, who is regarded by supporters as an Islamic reformer, must win an eventual vote on the length of his term by an absolute majority in parliament.

In the first round held two weeks ago, the ruling coalition came out on top by winning an absolute majority and automatic election in three out of the 24 seats being voted for. The opposition won none outright.

A Reuters witness said authorities had banned people moving across the three islands Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli after opposition allegations of multiple voting in the first round. Road blocks have also been set up in the capital, Moroni.

JUST FOR SHOW
Sambi’s coalition also won a majority in local government elections held on Dec. 6.

Each of the regional councils on the three islands will chose three more assembly members each, bringing the total number of seats to 33.

Opposition to the ruling coalition has been strongest in Moheli, the island slated to take over the presidency next year.

Support is more divided on the two larger islands. Sambi’s allies campaigned on a platform of gradual macro-economic stabilisation in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation, one of the poorest in the world.

But for some, neither side offered hope of progress.

“All I want is to be able so sell my pistachio nuts. All of this, it’s just for show,” said Moroni resident Halima Himdi, pointing at the ballot box behind her.

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