Comoros president Assoumani seeks fourth term

As Comoros anticipates a crucial election, allegations of dissent suppression surround President Azali Assoumani, sparking calls for a boycott and drawing attention to past controversies.

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Comoros' President Azali Assoumani addresses supporters during a political rally ahead of the presidential election outside Moroni, Comoros January 9, 2024. REUTERS/Issihaka Mahafidhou NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

This Sunday citizens of Comoros are set to cast their votes in an eagerly awaited election, poised to potentially grant President Azali Assoumani, a former military officer, a fourth term in office.

Critics allege that Assoumani, currently holding the African Union chair, stifles dissent in the Indian Ocean archipelago. In the upcoming election, Assoumani will contend with five rivals, although some opposition figures advocate for a boycott, claiming bias from the electoral commission towards the ruling party. Despite these accusations, the electoral commission maintains its commitment to transparency.

Past elections, notably in 2019, were criticized by regional observer missions, including the African Union, citing irregularities and a lack of credibility. The 2019 vote occurred after constitutional changes eliminated the requirement for the presidency to rotate among the country’s three main islands every five years, enabling Assoumani to pursue re-election.

The constitutional changes triggered several months of violent protests in the nation, which has a population of less than 1 million and has witnessed approximately 20 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975.

According to the new system, Assoumani, who initially assumed power through a coup in 1999, then stepped down in 2002, only to return and win the election 14 years later, would be mandated to relinquish office in 2029. Critics argue that since 2019, Assoumani’s administration has suppressed dissent. In 2022, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi received a life sentence for high treason linked to corruption accusations. Political protests have been consistently prohibited for security reasons.

The primary opposition leader, Mohamed Ali Soilihi, residing in exile in France, has declared a call for an election boycott, asserting that democracy only exists in the discourses of the president.

Assoumani rebuffed allegations of politically motivated prosecutions, asserting that the election will proceed successfully despite the boycott. He conveyed to reporters this week, “Those who don’t want the elections to take place have two options: stay at home or leave the country.”

During the campaign, Assoumani has highlighted achievements such as the construction of roads, hospitals, and other infrastructure under his leadership.

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