Islamist elected president in coup-plagued Comoros

Islamist candidate Ahmed Abdalla Sambi won a landslide victory in weekend presidential elections in the coup-plagued Comoro islands, according to provisional results announced on Tuesday.

The national election board said Sambi took 58,27% of the vote in Sunday’s polls, which it is hoped will bring stability to the volatile Indian Ocean archipelago that has been wracked by political crises for decades.

The Muslim cleric and businessman, known as “the Ayatollah”, easily bested the other two candidates in the race to succeed outgoing President Azali Assoumani.

Long-time politician Ibrahim Halidi, who was backed by Azali, won 28,08%, while deputy Parliament speaker Mohamed Djaanfari garnered only 13,72%, the election board said.

“I declare candidate Ahmed Abdalla Sambi provisionally elected,” Comoran Secretary of State for Elections Ali Abdallah said, adding that voter turnout had been 58%.

The results announced on Tuesday must still be certified by the Comoros Constitutional Court, which is expected to rule on Wednesday or Thursday on any potential challenge to the returns.

While Halidi’s camp had on Monday made charges of fraud and irregularities, it conceded defeat on Tuesday and campaign director Youssouf Said said there would be no challenge to the results.

Supporters of Djaanfari, who had no immediate reaction to the results, have also alleged malfeasance at the polls, although the elections were endorsed as free and fair by international observers.

“In light of the assessments made, the international observers can confidently conclude that the elections were free, transparent and credible and were conducted in accordance with the Comoran legal framework,” they said.

“We believe that the outcome of the election is a true reflection of the will of the Comoran people,” the observers said in a joint statement released just before the announcement of results.

“We urge all parties to accept and respect the outcome of the election,” said the observers who came from the African Union, the Arab League, the Francophonie group of French-speaking nations, the Indian Ocean Commission, the United States, France and The Netherlands.

AU officials had been closely watching the polls and the pan-African body had deployed a South African-led force of hundreds of troops and police to secure the election.

“We had an exemplary election that gave Comorans a truly popular president without fraud or irregularities,” AU special envoy to the Comoros Jose Francisco Madeira told reporters.

The election was seen as a test of stability and political maturity in the troubled archipelago, which has suffered from a secession crisis and some 20 coup attempts since independence from France in 1975.

Four of the coups were successful, including the one that brought Azali to power in 1999.

It is hoped the vote will help the nation rebuild its economy and improve the lives of its 600 000 people, half of whom are illiterate, live in abject poverty and suffer widespread malnutrition.

Sambi (48) has pledged to end instability and boost development in the Comoros, although his expected election sparked fears among some of a surge in radical Islam on the overwhelmingly Muslim islands.

Although he is a Muslim cleric who has spoken in favour of an Islamic government, Sambi has rejected such concerns, noting that his top priority is development.

About 310 000 voters were eligible to choose among Sambi, Halidi and Djaanfari, but “the Ayatollah” had been the clear favourite due his strong showing in April’s primary on Anjouan that winnowed the field from 13 to three.

Azali, from Grand Comore, was barred from standing for re-election under the country’s 2001 power-sharing Constitution, which accords semi-autonomy to the three islands and provides for the presidency to rotate among them.

All three candidates in Sunday’s election were from Anjouan. Moheli will provide candidates for the next presidential election in 2010. — AFP

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