In defiance of both the Union of Comoros government and the African Union (AU), Mohamed Bacar, 45, inaugurated himself for a second term as the president of Anjouan Island this week. In response, the Union has sent a high-level delegation to the AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for urgent talks.
The Indian Ocean archipelego held scheduled elections on two of its three islands on 10 June - Grande Comore and Moheli - after incidents of violence and intimidation during the run-up to Anjouan's election precipitated the poll's postponement until 17 June by the AU and the Union government.
The archipelago's complex electoral system was brokered in 2001 by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in the wake of Moheli and Anjouan seceding from Grand Comore in 1997. The electoral system provides for a semi-autonomous government and president for each island - Anjouan, Grand Comore and Moheli - with a rotating presidency for the over-arching Union government.
Comoros' constitutional court approved 31 candidates to contest the individual island elections: 18 for Grande Comore, eight for Anjouan and five for Moheli. Mohamed Bacar, elected president of Anjouan in 2002, was asked to step down by the court on grounds that he had served his five-year term, and nominated an interim president to head the island's government until the elections were held, but Bacar refused to go.
The Union government had withheld election material from Anjouan to try and prevent the poll from taking place, but Bacar printed his own ballot papers, went ahead with the vote on 10 June and claimed a landslide victory of 90 percent.
Both the AU and the Union government said if an election were held on Anjouan it would be declared "illegal". Bacar's inauguration ceremony on 14 June has deepened the electoral crisis, making it highly unlikely that the official Anjouan poll, postponed to 17 June, will be held.
In his inauguration speech Bacar declared himself "the president of all Anjouan" and appealed to the Union government "not to throw oil onto the fire".
France, the country's former colonial power, expressed its support for the Union government and the AU stance against Bacar in a statement released on 15 June, and noted that the 10 June election was only the first round in the presidential elections, with the second round scheduled for 24 June.
The statement urged Bacar to respect the 17 June date for holding Anjouan's official election, and allow it to be supervised by AU troops and monitored by international observers.
Union government holds meetings with AU
The Union's vice president, Idi Nadhoim, and foreign minister, Ahmed Ben Sa'id Jassar, were expected to return from Addis Ababa on 16 June after meetings with the AU. It is not known what was discussed between the two parties.
Earlier this week, IRIN learned that the Union government was contemplating a military solution to the electoral impasse, but analysts told IRIN that the Union's military forces were no match for Bacar's, and if the crisis were to escalate to a military confrontation, the Union would require military assistance from foreign sources.
During his first term as president, Bacar "invested heavily" in his security forces and has at his disposal a few hundred heavily armed gendarmes, commanded by his younger brother, Abdou, as well as an armed militia thought to be about 500-strong.
Political analyst Ahmend Thabit, based in the Grand Comore capital, Moroni, told IRIN the AU had a mandate to supervise and monitor the elections, and although AU troops were stationed on Moheli and Grand Comore for the poll, any AU military action would require a new mandate. "The Comoros government cannot take any action until it has consulted with the AU," he said.
Hate and intolerance
Bacar said in his inauguration speech that he understood the concerns and "hestitations of the AU" about the elections on Anjouan, and went on to blame other candiates who had "done their utmost to sow violence and division, and propagate hate and intolerance".
The AU withdrew a 40-strong contingent of South African policemen sent to monitor the election scheduled for 10 June on Anjouan, while other candidates withdrew their participation.
"Our island and our country certainly did not deserve an electoral campaign of such low quality, where people competed to excel in insults and dishonesty," Bacar said in his speech. "We must make an effort to quickly turn over this not very glorious page of our history and close it definitively."
Bacar, the island's former police chief and a participant in the island's 2001 military coup before being elected president the following year, is viewed as a "separatist" and a proponent of even greater autonomy for the three islands comprising the country.
In his speech he said he was open to dialogue, and appealed "to the international community not to turn its back to the Comoros Union, although I do not subscribe to the approach to the Comoran problem."
AU special envoy Francisco Madeira as well as representatives of the Arab League held negotiations with Bacar on Monday and Tuesday this week to try and defuse the political crisis.
The geographical position of the Comoros at the northern entrance of the Mozambican Channel made it a haven for pirates before it was colonised by France in 1841. After 130 years of colonial rule, during which its strategic importance waned with the opening of the Suez canal, the archipelago gained independence in 1975 but has experienced three decades of instability, with 19 successful and attempted coups.