- A total of 14 candidates have registered with the electoral commission to fight for the presidency of the Union of Comoros, to which the incumbent is not eligible. The 14 May poll will be the first real test to whether Comoros has managed to break its vicious circle of coups since the 2001 power-sharing constitution. To make sure, however, the African Union (AU) yesterday authorised the deployment of troops on the archipelago.
The AU from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) yesterday published a statement that it had authorised "the deployment, until 9 June," of a special representative in head of a peacekeeping mission termed AMISEC. The mission will "comprise the team of election observers and monitors referred to above and 462 military and civilian police personnel, with South Africa as lead nation, as well as the necessary support staff," according to the statement.
According to the AU, the peacekeeping force is to safeguard the complicated constitution and election process agreed to at an AU-brokered peace process, which ended the self-declared independence of Anjouan, the second largest island of the Comoran archipelago. The deployment of AMISEC was in particular necessary as Comoran security forces were not allowed to be "involved in the conduct of the electoral process in any capacity," according to the AU statement.
The Comoran presidential elections are indeed a delicate and complicated issue. According to the 2001 constitution - which create a loose union of the three islands Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli - the union presidency rotates from one island to another every four years. Power is now held by President Azali Assoumani, who came to power in a coup in 1999, but in 2002 was elected the first President of the Union of Comoros - representing the island of Grand Comore - despite widespread fraud allegations.
According to the complicated constitution, the next Union President has to represent the island of Anjouan. Therefore, the Anjouanese electoral commission has already registered all candidates for the Comoran presidency, totalling 14. On 16 April, a first poll round will be organised only on that island.
The three candidates gathering most votes among the Anjouanese population will thus be presented to the entire Comoran population in a second poll round on 14 May. The winning Anjouanese thus is to hold the presidency of the Union of Comoros for four years, until the island of Moheli is given its chance to present its candidates for the Union presidency in 2010.
Comoros has the unfortunate world record in coups and coup attempts since independence from France in 1975 - this political instability making it the poorest of the African Indian Ocean states. Politics have always been dominated by strongmen, and current President Assoumani is no exception. Therefore, there is much excitement to whether the incumbent free-willingly will accept power to be transferred to another elected president later this year.
If the power transfer indeed is constitutional and peaceful, this would be the first time in the archipelago's history that an elected President has endured his entire term and handed over powers to another President. It comes as no surprise that the AU and South Africa send troops to Comoros to oversee the election process and assure a constitutional power transfer as the AU has put much prestige in the Comoran peace process.
Especially South Africa has been heavily involved in the Comoran peace and reconciliation process, with President Thabo Mbeki participating personally. The South African Ministry of Defence therefore already last week announced it would send "300 soldiers, medics and airmen" to Comoros as part of the AU effort to safeguard the upcoming poll. The first batch of 55 South African military personnel arrived Comoros already on Friday last week.
"The integrated elements will be deployed on the three main islands from where they will conduct typical peace mission activities and civilian police actions," the Pretoria Ministry of Defence said in a statement issued on Thursday last week.
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