Comorans head to the polls for legislative elections

Comorans cast their ballot on Sunday in legislative elections which are being billed by the opposition as a vote on President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi's bid to extend his stay in office.


AFP - Voters in the Indian Ocean state of the Comoros went to the polls Sunday for a legislative election that could determine President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi's chances of extending his tenure.

Some polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0400 GMT) in the capital while voting started late in other parts of the federation's three islands due to the late delivery of ballot boxes, an AFP correspondent reported.

The election, held in two rounds with the second due on December 20, will return 24 deputies to the national assembly.

The campaign for the elections, during which Comoroans will also elect councillors for each of the islands in the coup-prone state, was peaceful.

If the presidential "Baobab" movement wins a majority after the second round, parliament is expected to approve a move by Sambi to extend by a year his current mandate, due to expire next year.

A constitutional amendment extending the federal president's term from four to five years has already been passed but part of the opposition argues the new rule cannot apply to the sitting president.

"One should not misread what is at stake in this election. In fact, it's a presidential election," French-Comoran lawyer and key opposition figure Said Larifou said in a recent campaign meeting.

Sambi's supporters have campaigned for the election with a plea to voters for the president to be given an opportunity to "continue the work already undertaken."

His top aide Mohamed Bacar Dossar made it clear before the campaign that the constitutional amendment should be interpreted as applying to the current presidential term.

The amendment also curtails the powers of the presidents of three islands -- Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli -- to make them more like governors.

But the main opposition leader, Houmed Msaidie, has repeatedly warned that the opposition would prevent Sambi from extending his mandate if it won the parliamentary polls.

Around 20 observers from the African Union (AU) will monitor the elections, which have been funded with help from the AU, the European Union, the Arab League, France and Libya.

Sambi, now 51, was elected in 2006 in the first ever peaceful transfer of power in the Comoros, which has seen 19 coups and coup attempts since its independence from France in 1975.

He pursued Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran, with which he maintains close ties, earning him the nickname of "the ayatollah of the Comoros".

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