afrol News, 16 April - Colonel Azali Assoumani, military strongman in Comoros between 1999 and January 2002, according to preliminary results has won Sunday's first presidential poll under the new constitution. The poll was not termed free and fair by observers.
According to provisional results announced by the head of the transitional government, Prime Minister Hamada Madi Bolero, Colonel Assoumani had obtained 75 percent of the votes cast on Sunday in the three islands forming the new Comoro Union. Bolero told the news agency Reuters that, "overall, the process has gone well." He claimed voters' turnout had been around 50 percent.
This is flatly denied by the head of the national elections monitoring body, Ismael Saandi. The BBC quotes Saandi saying the elections could not be considered fair, because of incidents of violence and the small number of votes cast. An estimated 20-30 percent of the electorate was registered voting, according to the observers. "The polls did not follow the criteria of free, transparent and democratic elections," Saandi added. Two opposition candidates boycotted the poll.
The presidential poll is among the last in a series of referendums and elections in the Indian Ocean archipelago state, leading towards a new state construction. After a series of military coups and coup attempts - over 20 since independence in 1975 - and the unilateral declaration of independence by the island of Anjouan in 1997, the new constitution approved by referendum last year created the Comoro Union.
The Comoro Union provides substantial autonomy to each of the three islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. The federal presidency is to take it in turns between the three islands. Grande Comore, the biggest island, was the first to nominate its candidates for federal elections, reportedly won by Colonel Assoumani on Sunday. Colonel Assoumani will serve a four-year term, before handing over the presidency to a candidate from Anjouan.
During the last months, two of the three islands also have approved their local constitutions, although the Grande Comore constitution was turned down by the island's voters and has to be presented again. Further, there have been local presidential and legislative elections.
Anjouan and Moheli have also elected their island presidents. In Anjouan, former military, self-declared President Colonel Mohammed Bacar won the 1 April presidential elections outright, obtaining over 70 percent of the votes. In Moheli, it took two poll rounds, and last week, the island's outgoing Moheli Governor Mohamed Said Fazul was elected president with over 55 percent of the votes.
While the electorate processes reportedly have been free and fair in Anjouan and Moheli, Grande Comore seems to have followed its troubled, undemocratic traditions. While the first presidential poll round on the island had been scheduled for 10 March, it had to be postponed for one week as all candidates except Colonel Assoumani had decided to boycott the poll, denouncing widespread fraud.
Also Sunday's second poll round seems to have been orderly carried through in Moheli and Anjouan - although turnout seems to have been low - but marred with irregularities in Grande Comore. There are reports of voter intimidation and road blocks during the poll. Also a heavy rainstorm was however said to have contributed to the low turnout.
Colonel Assoumani took power in Grande Comore in a military coup in 1999. He has been avoided by the international community, being a military ruler. Colonel Assoumani has however plaid a key role in achieving reconciliation with the secessionist government of Anjouan island, leading to the establishment of the Comoro Union. Assoumani had stepped down from presidency in January to be able to participate in these elections.
Sources: Based on press reports and afrol archives