- With the votes in and counting underway, religious leader Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has been tipped to become the next President of the Union of Comoros. "The election has been a walkover for Sambi - he has taken between 70 and 75 percent of the votes on all three islands," a local diplomat commented.
Comorans across the three-island Indian Ocean archipelago went to the polls on Sunday for the last round in a presidential race aimed at ending a history of corruption, coups and inter-island strife since independence from France in 1975.
Mr Sambi, known as 'The Ayatollah' among his supporters, stands to defeat his two rivals: retired French air force officer Mohamed Djaanfari, and long-time politician Ibrahim Halidi, whose candidacy was backed by outgoing Union President Azali Assoumani.
"We have seen results from between 80 and 90 percent of the polling stations - 70 percent of the votes have gone to Sambi," Idi Nadhoin, Vice-President of Mr Sambi's Islamic National Front for Justice party, told the UN media 'IRIN'.
Campaigning by the three candidates was dominated by concerns over corruption, unemployment and poverty. Mr Sambi pledged "real reform", an end to years of government mismanagement and squandering of public funds, and the creation of new jobs and housing for the poor.
"Sambi is expressing the will of the people. We are looking to start a 'state of law', to install equal justice for everyone, rich or poor. But we have no cash," Mr Nadhoin said. "One priority is to try to get back the money [allegedly lost because of government graft]. You can not play with public money, so we will try to find it - getting back 100 percent is difficult but if we manage 10 to 20 percent we can get started," he added.
Funding will be crucial: Mr Sambi stands to inherit a civil service disgruntled by months of unpaid salaries. According to Mr Nadhoin, "Teachers are on strike; we need to build good hospitals and repair roads, so there is an urgent need to get started."
Polling stations on Moheli, Grande Comore and Anjouan opened at 07:00 and closed at 18:00 on Sunday, "giving the estimated 310,000 registered voters ample opportunity cast their vote" at a total of 624 sites, a spokesperson for the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC) told 'IRIN'.
Although AMISEC said voting generally went smoothly, the 462-strong mission - including military and police personnel - reportedly arrested a number of people for fraud, including a prominent member of the National Electoral Commission (CNEC).
"He [the CNEC official] was taking advantage of his position, was arrested and has been handed over to the Comoran authorities," Francisco Madeira, AU special envoy to the Comoros and AMISEC chief told 'IRIN'.
The three islands each have a turn to hold the national presidency, which rotates every four years. If the Comoran Constitutional Court verifies the preliminary results on Wednesday, outgoing President Assoumani is expected to pass the torch to Mr Sambi at the official inauguration on 26 May, handing the union presidency from Grande Comore to Anjouan.
Mr Sambi topped the polls during primaries held in April, when the residents of Anjouan narrowed down their presidential hopefuls from 13 to three. Comoran security forces were confined to their barracks during the election phases.
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