Two-way showdown in Comoros presidential election

Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) - Voters were heading to the polls in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros on Sunday in a likely face-off between the current vice president and a former coup leader who ruled the country for seven years.

The second round of the presidential election comes after Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi -- known as Mamadou -- won the first round in February with 17.88 percent of the vote.

The two other contenders are governor of Grande Comore island Mouigni Baraka, who garnered 15.62 percent in the first round, and 1999 coup leader Colonel Azali Assoumani, who took 15.10 percent.

Voting kicked off under calm conditions just after 7:00 am (0400 GMT), with people lining up at poll stations under the eye of a discrete police presence.

Assoumani is seen as Mamadou's main rival after receiving the endorsement from the opposition Juwa party, which has no candidate in the second round.

The Juwa party split over the endorsement, and 15 high-ranking party officials resigned to rally behind Mamadou, who is viewed as the establishment choice.

Assoumani first came to power in 1999 after ousting acting president Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde in a coup.

He then won the presidential election three years later, stepping down when his term ended in 2006.

If the election goes smoothly, results are expected within three days in the race to succeed outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine.

- Dire poverty -

A Constitutional Court ruling in March upheld the first-round results after 19 of the 25 candidates alleged fraud.

Campaigning for the second round was marked by personal attacks and allegations of corruption, with barbs traded particularly between Mamadou and Assoumani.

The first round took place only on Grand Comore island, in accordance with electoral rules that ensure the president is chosen on a rotating basis from the three main islands.

Comoros' system was established in 2001 after more than 20 coups or attempted coups, four of which were successful, in the years following independence from France in 1975.

The three islands of Anjouan, Grand Comore and Moheli that make up the Comoros have a total population of just under 800,000 people, nearly all of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Dhoinine's completion of his five-year term in the impoverished archipelago has been seen as a sign of growing stability in the Comoros in recent years.

Though the islands, situated between Madagascar and Mozambique, suffer dire poverty, they export some vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang perfume essence.

Comoros is the world's top producer of ylang-ylang, which is extracted from a flower -- a commodity that makes up one-tenth of the archipelago's total export revenues.

The oil is a key ingredient in Chanel N°5 and is also used in many other perfumes.