- Campaigning for the presidential elections in Comoros is underway, testing the Indian Ocean islands' fragile power-sharing arrangement. "Everything is going well. Thirteen candidates have been approved by the court and campaigning has started," Ali Said Mdahoma, secretary of the National Elections Commission, told the UN media 'IRIN'.
Since independence from France in 1975, the Comoros have been plagued by coups - successful as well as attempted - and the more recent temporary secession of two of the three islands in the group: Anjouan and Moheli.
The Comoros constitution was amended in an agreement brokered at the end of the 2001 by the African Union's (AU) predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, giving the individual islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president.
In March 2002, Assoumani Azali from Grand Comore, the largest island, was elected federal President of the new union. According to the agreement, the federal presidency rotates between the three islands and President Azali is expected to stand down and hand over to a President from Anjouan.
The first round of voting on 16 April, reserved for Anjouan's 270,000 inhabitants, will narrow down Anjouan's presidential hopefuls to three candidates, who will stand in a national election scheduled for 14 May, when the total Comoros population of 670,000 will vote in one of them as the Union President.
In a message to an international donors' meeting in December 2005, where US$ 200 million was pledged to help the Indian Ocean archipelago overcome chronic poverty and instability, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "the presidential elections have the potential to be a true milestone in the country's transition from instability, provided they are conducted in an open, fair and democratic manner."
South Africa, under the auspices of the AU, has sent 500 troops to ensure that they are. "There has always been a question of confidence between the islands [in the Comoros federation]. There is mistrust between the islands, so it is important to build legitimate security to ensure the electoral process goes well," an official at the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs told 'IRIN'.
In 2010 it will be the turn of the smallest island, Moheli, to hold the union presidency.
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