Djibouti, April 10, 2016 (AFP) – The African Union said Sunday that Djibouti’s presidential election, won by a landslide by incumbent Ismail Omar Guelleh, was “free and credible,” despite opposition protests over the outcome. Friday’s vote was “free and sufficiently transparent for it to be considered a credible reflection of the will of the Djibouti people,” African Union observer mission head Soumana Sako told a press conference.
The opposition in the strategic Horn of Africa state on Saturday blasted the results of the election in which some 187,000 people — only around a quarter of the population — were eligible to cast a ballot. Guelleh, in power since 1999, won a fourth term after garnering almost 87 percent of ballots cast, according to the interior ministry, leading opposition figures to accuse him of mounting an “electoral hold-up”. Activists complained that the poll took place in the face of political repression and curbs on basic freedoms. Guelleh overcame a fractured opposition to extend his iron-fisted rule in the tiny country that has attracted the United States, France and China as a prime location for strategic military bases.
‘Calm is not transparency’
The closest opposition candidate — Omar Elmi Khaireh, distant runner-up with seven percent of the vote — said he was disturbed by the apparent insouciance of the AU towards the irregularities. Several opposition candidates complained Saturday that their representatives had been turned away from some voting centres on polling day. “Without access to the records what can they say other than that the vote went off calmly? Well, calm does not amount to transparency,” Khaireh told AFP on Saturday.
The AU mission visited 124 of 456 polling stations and said instructions for voting were not always publicly posted or signed by poll officials in line with electoral laws. Observers also found some booths did not systematically ratify voter registers which used indelible ink to ensure each person cast his ballot just once, according to Sako, a former Malian prime minister. Furthermore, some ballot boxes were not hermetically sealed and some booth officials sported T-shirts bearing pictures of Guelleh. The AU team also noted some booths had no opposition officials present, but added there was no sign of that absence being down to a “manoeuvre by the authorities.”
Guelleh, 68, won the previous election in 2011 with 80 percent of the vote, after parliament changed the constitution to clear the way for a third term. Djibouti lies on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It is home to Washington’s only permanent base in Africa, which is used for operations in Yemen — just across the Gulf of Aden — as well as the fight against the Islamist Shebab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
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