Towards an electoral crisis?

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Azali Assoumani, the re-elected president of the Comoros. Screenshot from Tv5monde YouTube channel. Fair use.

Following the provisional results of the elections on January 14, Azali Assoumani prepares to embark on his second term as president of the Comoros. The opposition’s outcry at the results has sparked demonstrations by the nation’s youth.

On January 14, the Comorian people went to the polls to elect a new leader for the next five years. The incumbent president, Azali Assoumani, seeking re-election, was up against five opposition candidates: Salim Issa Abdillah from the Juwa party, Bourhane Hamidou representing the Mouvement pour les Comores de demain (Movement for the Comores of Tomorrow), Aboudou Soefo, ex-foreign minister, Mouigni Baraka Saïd Soilihi, former governor of Grande Comore, and Abdallah Mohamed Daoudou, previously home minister and mayor of the country’s capital, Moroni.

On January 16, the independent national electoral commission (CENI) declared Azali Assoumani’s victory with 62.97 percent of the votes, ushering in his fourth term as president of the Union of the Comoros (2002, 2016, 2019, and 2024), and his third consecutive one. Salim Issa Abdillah, running as an independent candidate, garnered second place with 20.6 percent of the votes, while Abdallah Mohamed Daoudou secured 5.88 percent of the votes.

This video from Tv5monde captures the moment when CENI announced their decision:

With an estimated population of 860,550, the Union of the Comoros boasts nearly 338,000 registered voters. However, the Comorian diaspora, which numbers around 600,000 and is mainly based in France, is barred from participating in the electoral proceedings.

In an article published in Radio France International (RFI), Said Larifou, a lawyer and former presidential candidate, now in exile in France since 2019, argues that the diaspora’s disenfranchisement casts doubts over the election’s democratic legitimacy.

Si une portion importante de la population est exclue de ce processus, donc il n’est pas démocratique. C’est un déni de démocratie. C’est un premier point. Deuxième point, ce processus n’est pas du tout démocratique même pour ceux qui sont sur place aux Comores dans la mesure où Azali a entre ses mains tous les leviers du pouvoir, et le processus est sous le contrôle exclusif d’Azali. Il n’y aura pas de changement aux Comores tant qu’Azali sera aux commandes.

If a significant segment of the population is excluded from this process, then it cannot be deemed democratic. It is a negation of democracy. That’s the first point. Secondly, even for those living actually in the Comoros, the process lacks democratic integrity since Azali monopolizes all the levers of power, and he has exclusive control over the electoral process. As long as Azali holds the reins, change in the Comoros remains improbable.

On election day, irregularities were noticed at several polling stations. This video, published on Tv5monde’s X (formerly Twitter) account dedicated to African news, shows clashes between the police and civilians:

In the Comoros, 338,000 voters were asked to cast their votes to choose between the incumbent president Assoumani and five other candidates. The opposition observed several irregularities and has already raised allegations of electoral fraud.

— Le journal Afrique TV5MONDE (@JTAtv5monde) January 14, 2024

Starting on January 17, unhappy with the CENI’s provisional results, young people took the street to express their indignation and frustration.

The beginning of an electoral crisis?

The day after the provisional results were announced, young Comorians stormed the streets of the capital. Very early in the morning, the building of the Ministry of Regional Planning was set on fire. Journalist and Reuters’s correspondent, Abdou Moustoifa, shared a video on his X account, showing the extent of the damage:

Post-electoral crisis in the #Comoros. Rioters have torched cars belonging to the Ministry for Regional Planning. Clashes are ongoing north of Moroni.

— Abdou Moustoifa (@abdou_moustoifa) January 17, 2024

The clashes between young people and security forces on January 17 left one dead and five wounded.

The opposition has called for a demonstration on January 19, as this video from Tv5monde’s X account shows:

In the Comoros, the opposition has called for a demonstration tomorrow Friday to challenging the declared victory of Azali Assoumani in the presidential elections. Clashes continue in Moroni’s streets. Results: one dead and five wounded.

— Le journal Afrique TV5MONDE (@JTAtv5monde) January 18, 2024

Internet outage

On January 17, the Comoros experienced significant internet outages; connections were limited and at times interrupted. This left Comorians isolated from the rest of the world unable to access social media networks. This post from an X user known as Comorien ancien attests to this:

For over an hour, subscribers to Comores Télécom have lost all connectivity whether they use fiber or 4G.

I can still access the internet but only with my Telma SIM card (and it’s pretty slow).

— COMORIEN ANCIEN (@The_TSAN) January 17, 2024

It’s the same story from Laklass, another citizen of the Comoros, on their X account:

Internet outages in the Comoros linked to my people’s rebellion over the results of the presidential elections. May Allah help my country.

— Laklass 🇰🇲 (@laklassN) January 17, 2024

International concerns

International bodies are expressing concern over the escalating situation in the Comoros, urging calm and restraint among its citizens. The UN has voiced significant worry about the unfolding crisis. In a statement published on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) website, High Commissioner Volker Turk, calls on the Comorian authorities to uphold freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest. One can read on the UN’s X account:

New challenges

The post-electoral crisis adds to the significant issues already facing Azali Assoumani, concurrently the president of the African Union , including massive migration, endemic poverty, and corruption. According to Transparency International’s corruption index, the Union of the Comoros is placed at a lowly 167th out of 180 countries. The nation’s average yearly income of just USD 138 per capita marks it as one of the globe’s most impoverished countries.

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