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After he secured power in a coup in 1999, Azali Assoumani ran for the presidency of Comoros in 2002. After retiring from politics in 2006, he ran for office again and won in 2016 and 2019. Now, after a court decision allowing him to stand for a fourth term, he is again seeking to lead the tiny archipelago of islands in the channel between Mozambique and Madagascar off East Africa.
Describing Assoumani as the “eternal candidate,” the Journal of Africa expected him to win reelection easily.
As the president of the powerful African Union (AU), Assoumani has won international plaudits. Many leaders in the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based AU didn’t have high hopes when Assoumani took over. But, as the Africa Report noted, he engaged in high-profile diplomatic efforts and pushed for free trade deals.
Assoumani has also pledged to respect democracy and the will of the people in his own country, but his rivals have questioned his trustworthiness, accusing him of using the offices of government to further his personal interests, while undermining election rules that might hurt his candidacy. Opposition figures have vowed to boycott the election unless the government releases political prisoners and allows for more transparency in how the votes are counted.
Many opposition figures, for instance, have fled the country for fear of facing imprisonment or worse. Yet, as Africa News wrote, election officials have made no provisions for anyone in the country’s widespread diaspora to cast ballots.
“We will not participate in yet another electoral charade,” said Mohamed Ali Soilihi, the leader of the Enlarged Common Front coalition, in an interview with Agence France-Presse. Soilihi came second after Assoumani in the 2016 election. He went into exile in France in 2022 after a court found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Others running against the eternal candidate include former foreign minister Aboudou Soefo, and Salim Issa, a candidate of Juwa, the political party of ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi. In 2022, Sambi was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “high treason” for selling passports to stateless wealthy folks in the Persian Gulf, added Al Jazeera.
Comoros has long witnessed these kinds of unfortunate political developments. Since achieving independence from France in the 1970s, Africa News noted, more than 20 armed groups have launched coups in the Indian Ocean islands, now with a population of around 800,000.
Assoumani’s stability might be positive. But that doesn’t mean that Comoran voters shouldn’t get a real chance to decide.