MORONI (Reuters) - Opposition candidates in the Comoros warned of possible vote rigging in Sunday’s first round of legislative elections that have centred on economic reform and presidential term limits in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Apart from allegations of administrative blunders and confusion at polling booths in the south of the capital Moroni, voting went on peacefully in the polls monitored by armed troops and observers from the African Union (AU) and the Arab League.
“In numerous polling stations in Moroni, the voter lists have contained phantom names,” Said Ahmed Said, a local government candidate from the opposition, told Reuters.
“In some cases a voter’s registration number on the list has not corresponded to the number on his voter card.”
Candidates of the coalition of President Ahmed Abdalla Sambi have campaigned on a ticket of economic stabilisation. Sambi, who overtook the Comoros Union’s rotating presidency in 2006, has overseen a raft of reforms to cut the government wage bill, raise tax revenue and boost private sector-led growth.
They also point to a period of relative political calm after the removal in 2008 of a self-declared rebel leader from power on the island of Anjouan, one of the three islands of the union.
Opponents accuse the federal leader of trampling political freedoms, failing to tackle corruption and plotting to extend his time in power in the impoverished, mainly Sunni nation.
Eight out of 10 opposition and independent candidates from Moroni South signed a letter to the country’s electoral commission and the constitutional court complaining of electoral sabotage. The election body denied any fraud.
“The elections are proceeding well,” said Saindou Djailla, president of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Voters will elect 24 parliamentarians to the national assembly over two rounds. Each island of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli will then choose three more assembly members each.
One of the new assembly’s first tasks will be to ratify or reject a “Yes” vote in a referendum earlier this year to extend the presidential term and align federal and local elections.
The opposition says the move is a ploy by Sambi to hold on to power while the ruling party says it is necessary to streamline a complex electoral system.
“Sambi’s intention is clear. It is to extend his mandate by a year or more,” Aboucabacar Boina, an anthropologist at the University of Comoros, told Reuters.
Boina said a term extension risked triggering a rebellion on Moheli, the next island to assume the presidency.
Sambi had been due to step down in May 2010. His election in 2006 marked the first democratic handover since independence from France in 1975. The Comoros, situated between Mozambique and Madagascar, had been plagued by coups since independence.
For some in the ramshackle, dusty streets of the capital, neither side offered much hope for progress in one of the world’s poorest nations.
“It’s always the same. We organise elections and then nothing changes. Whoever wins will just fill their pockets,” said housewife Fatima Ahmed, adding she had no voter card to vote with in any case.
The second round will be held on Dec. 20.
Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Elizabeth Fullerton