Comoros votes in election boycotted by opposition

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Voters cast their ballots in an election marked by a notable lack of enthusiasm due to an opposition boycott

Voters cast their ballots in an election marked by a notable lack of enthusiasm due to an opposition boycott (AFP Photo/Ibrahim YOUSSOUF)

Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) - Comorans turned out in low numbers on Sunday to vote in the first round of a parliamentary election, with victory for President Azali Assoumani's supporters all but certain after opposition parties boycotted the contest.

Most voting stations in the Indian Ocean archipelago's capital Moroni opened late due to a lack of election material, closed at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) and were visited by few people, an AFP reporter said.

In the western village of Ntsoudjini, an opposition stronghold, only 359 out of 2,106 registered voters had cast their ballot with one hour to go until polls closed.

Opposition parties said they would not contest the 24 seats in the Comoros national assembly after failing to obtain guarantees of a "transparent, free and democratic" election.

Azali secured a second consecutive term in March 2019, but critics alleged vote rigging and witnesses said ballot boxes were stuffed, the latest scandal in a country blighted by instability and coups.

The president, who has denied the allegations, said on Sunday he regretted the opposition's absence.

"It's a shame," Azali said while voting in his hometown Mitsoudje. "I thought they would participate to take their place in the new assembly."

There were some reports of incidents on Sunday, including ballot boxes being destroyed in the northern town of Mbeni, a stronghold of opposition leader Mohamed Ali Soilihi.

While the opposition has accused him of being a dictator, Azali insisted in the run-up to the election that any possible fraud would not be the fault of the regime.

"Do not come to complain that the vote was stolen from you, even if it's true, because it is the will of god," he said on Friday.

One of the opposition's demands had been that its diaspora of roughly 300,000 should be allowed to take part in the vote, a demand Azali's camp said would be impossible to meet.

While the absence of official opposition candidates made for a low-key election campaign, tensions appeared within the ruling coalition this week.

Azali's ruling party, the CRC, has accused the Orange party of Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou of insufficient support for their coalition.

First-round results are expected late Sunday, with a second round scheduled for February 23.

The former French colony is one of the world's poorest countries.