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Eleven opposition candidates united in call for fair elections in Comoros

Comoros President Azali Assoumani

Incumbent Comoros President Azali Assoumani waves on February 24, 2019 during a campaign meeting in Mitsoudje, Hambou region, on Grande Comore, in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros, ahead of March Presidential election. - Thirteen candidates have been cleared for the March presidential vote in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros. (Photo by Anais SCHELTENS PRINCE / AFP)

Eleven opposition candidates running in Comoros’ upcoming presidential elections have issued a joint call for a transparent vote, fearing fraud by incumbent President Azali Assoumani, who is seeking re-election.

Azali, who was elected in 2016, is tipped by observers to win the election, the first round of which is due to be held on March 24.

Thirteen candidates have been cleared for the vote, but Azali’s main challengers have been barred.

“We must ensure voting security for credible and transparent elections that are beyond reproach,” opposition spokesman Moustoifa Said Cheikh told reporters on Wednesday.

As things stand there are no “guarantees for a free vote,” he said.

The parties sounded the alarm just over three weeks before Indian Ocean archipelago, one of the world’s poorest economies, goes to the polls.

The candidates demanded manual counting of ballots at polling stations in the presence of candidates’ representatives to ensure fairness.

Mohamed Ali Soilihi, leader of an opposition coalition that comprises 10 parties who has been banned from running in the polls, called for a “review of the entire electoral process”.

“Under the current situation, even if one of our candidates gets 90 percent of the vote, Azali will win,” he predicted.

Azali initially seized power in a coup against an acting head of state in 1999. He went on to win elections and remained in power until 2006.

That year, power transferred peacefully for the first time since independence from France in 1975.

Today, Azali’s critics say his behaviour is authoritarian, and accuse him of seeking to remain in power until 2029. 

If there is no outright winner in the first round, a second round of voting will be held on April 21.

Elections will be held under a new constitution which Azali put to a public vote in July 2018 that was boycotted by opposition parties.

The controversial reform allows the president to hold two five-year mandates instead of one. 

If Azali wins March’s polls, he will be considered to be starting a first term under the law, which would allow him to seek a second in 2024.

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