COMOROS: Political crisis overshadows smooth elections

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The successful second round of presidential elections on two of the three islands in the Union of Comoros has been overshadowed by the continuing political crisis on the third island, Anjouan.

The elections on Sunday 24 June on the islands of Grand Comore and Moheli went "very, very smoothly", the UN Resident Coordinator in the Comoros, Opia Mensah Kumah, told IRIN.

The Indian Ocean 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.

On two of the three islands - Grande Comore and Moheli - the first round of elections were held on 10 June, but the African Union (AU) and the Union government postponed the poll on Anjouan until 17 June, after incidents of violence and intimidation during the run-up to voting.

In defiance of both the Union government and the AU, Mohamed Bacar, 45, who had held the post of President of Anjouan for a five-year term, went ahead with the election on 10 June and then inaugurated himself as president of the island for a second term after claiming a landslide victory of 90 percent, even though the African Union (AU) and the Union government had declared the election null and void.

African Union delegation

On Sunday 24 June an AU ministerial delegation, led by South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and including representatives from Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Sechelles, Kenya and Madagascar, held talks with the Union president, Ahmed Abdullah Mohamed Sambi, "as well as the authorities of Anjouan", the delegation said in a statement on Monday 25 June.
"The mission demands the authorities of Anjouan to hold a free and fair presidential election, in compliance with the African Union security plan," the statement said.

According to reports, the Union government, which has threatened to impose its authority on Anjouan by military force, had expected a harder stance from the AU.

"We are disappointed by the progress of the AU mission," Union government spokesperson Abdourahim Said Bacar reportedly said, and added that the Union government would hold the AU to its Ministerial Committee statement issued on 19 June in Cape Town, South Africa, that if Bacar did not relinquish his post the AU would "take all necessary measures, including revising the mandate of MAES [AU Electoral and Security Assistance Mission to the Comoros]".

About 300 AU soldiers and police have been deployed in the Comoros to monitor the elections, but any use of force against the Anjouan authorities would require a change to its mandate. The Union government has conceded that any military action would require the assistance of outside forces, because of a skewed balance of military forces.

Bacar, Anjouan's former chief of police and a participant in the island's 2001 military coup before being elected as the island president the following year, is said to command "100 percent loyalty" from the gendarmerie. Apart from a few hundred gendarmes, who possess heavy weapons in their armoury, the island also has an estimated 500-strong armed militia.

In provisional results from the second round of elections on Grand Comore, Mohamed Abdelwahab, a former Union government cabinet minister, who is said to be a proponent of greater unity between the islands, won by 57 percent.

On Moheli, businessman Mohamed Ali Said, who is also viewed as favouring closer links between the islands, won about 58 percent of the vote.

Comoros gained independence from France in 1975 after more than a 130 years of colonial rule, but has experienced 19 successful and attempted coups in three decades of political instability.

Source: IRIN