- Colonel Azali Assoumani, leader of the Comoros Union, has said he will not be able to organise on-time elections on the island of Anjouan, which according to the constitution is to decide on the new Union President within the next few months. Colonel Azali maintained that he had effectively lost all powers in Anjouan.
In a recent speech addressing the nation, President Azali of the Comoros Union said he would be unable to organise elections on the island of Anjouan, as he is obliged to by the complicated Comoran constitution. This would be impossible "within a few months," the Comoran leader said, thus in practical terms postponing the poll to an undefined date.
The island of Anjouan - the second largest in the Comoran archipelago - is the next one to hold the Union's rotating presidency, according to a constitution that was the result of a South Africa-negotiated peace process. Colonel Azali was elected Union President by the voters of Grande Comore - the main island - in 2002, and he is obliged to hand over the presidency to an Anjouanese leader by April 2006.
All the three islands of the Union have an ample autonomy, and Anjouan - which declared independence in 1997 but returned to Comoros in 2002 - has been particularly eager to avoid interference from Colonel Azali's Union regime. This is now used as an argument against holding elections in Anjouan.
"I cannot organise elections in Anjouan as I don't have neither administrative nor security powers in the island," President Azali said in his speech. No state (Union) institutions currently had powers to organise an elections there, he added.
As the Anjouanese are responsible for the election of the Union President, Colonel Azali said he found it "difficult to take responsibility" for a poll exercise in Anjouan under the current conditions. Anjouan is currently ruled by Colonel Mohamed Bacar, who negotiated the island's return to Comoros and is seen as the most obvious Anjouanese candidate for the Union presidency.
The unwillingness of Colonel Azali to organise elections in Anjouan for his replacement highlight yet another weak spot in the complicated constitution of the Comoros Union. The archipelago for years was paralysed by a power struggle between President Azali and the presidents of the three autonomous islands, spearheaded by his arch rival, the President of Grande Comore, Abdou Soulé Elbak.
Colonel Azali has been given much of the responsibility for the slow process towards stability in Comoros. The leader, who came to power in a 1999 military coup, was originally banned from presenting himself in the 2002 election for Union President in Grande Comore. His main rival, Mr Elbak, still holds Colonel Azali only won through widespread election fraud.
During the last two years, Colonel Azali however has experienced many setbacks and limits to his powers. In the power struggle with the three autonomous islands, most powers have been taken from him. In last year's elections to the Union's parliament, his supporters only won six out of 33 seats. By now, the only remaining question is whether Colonel Azali voluntarily will hand over powers to an Anjouanese in April next year.
Speaking to Comoran journalists, the Union President was quoted by the 'Express' of Mauritius as saying that he would not admit Anjouanese President Bacar solely organise the upcoming union elections on the island. He demanded that the African Union (AU) and the UN organise the Anjouan polls "and not limit themselves to the sending of observers." An official reaction from the Anjouanese government has not yet been announced.
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