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Comoros - Election 2019

Comoros was rocked by political instability after Assoumani won the vote in July 2018 that extended presidential term limits and abolished the system of rotating power between the three main islands. The constitutional changes could see Assoumani - who is from the largest island, Grande Comore - rule for 11 more years. Assoumani had been in power since 2016 and would have had to step down in 2021 under the old term limits. The opposition said the plebiscite was illegal, because Assoumani suspended the Constitutional Court before the vote was held, and urged the African Union to intervene. Elections that were due to be held by July 2019 will take place in the first quarter of 2019, Assoumani said in October 2018.

President Azali seemed to be well on the way to turning his country into an autocratic state. In April 2018, he disempowered the constitutional court of the Comoros which until then had been the last politically independent institution in the country. Since the referendum in July 2018, opposition figures reported increased repression, some members of the opposition party Juwa were arrested or forced to go underground. Since May 2018, Azali's main rival, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, had been under house arrest on corruption charges.

Authorities in Comoros placed governor Abdou Salami Abdou of strife-torn Anjouan island under house arrest on 21 October 2018 on charges of instigating unrest in the province, as the government sent in more troops to quell the violence. Anjouan had been shaken by clashes pitting security forces against young men angry at President Azali Assoumani's plans to end the rotating presidency.

For almost a week, rebels barricaded themselves in narrow streets and fought with soldiers. During that time, local residents were forced to stay at home, at times without water and electricity. According to news agencies, at least two civilians were killed. The army was only able to end the rebellion after reinforcements arrived from a neighboring island.

Some observers specualted that a kind of proxy war could develop between Saudi Arabia with its Sunni Islam majority and Shia-majority Iran in the almost exclusively Sunni Comoros. President Azali had sought closer ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years, while his predecessor and adversary Sambi was said to have close relations with Iran.

Azali ordered elections to be held after Comorans voted to support changing the constitution to extend presidential terms from one five-year term to two. The opposition boycotted the referendum. Comorians went to the polls on Sunday 24 March 2019 to elect a new president. A total of 19 candidates put their names forward for the March 24 election. However, the Supreme Court which is primarily composed of Azali's allies rejected the candidacy of former Finance Minister Mohamed Ali Soilihi and Ibrahim Mohamed Soule of the Juwa Party.

The overall impression of the population was that President Azali will not be elected in the first ballot in a transparent election. On Tuesday 26 March 2019, the country's election commission declared that Azali Assoumani won the election with 60.77 percent of the vote. The commission said his nearest rival, Mahamoudou Ahamada, had 14.62 percent. The opposition leaders said they didn't recognize the election results because of what they called widespread fraud. Observers from three regional bodies the African Union, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, and the African Standby Forces of the East said the voting was full of irregularities that led them to conclude it lacked credibility and transparency.

Four people died Thursday 28 March 2019 in a gunfight at a military camp in Comoros where police had detained an opposition presidential candidate. An armed group tried to help former Maj. Faissoil Abdou Salam and others they considered political prisoners escape from prison in the capital, Moroni. Faissoil had been jailed for plotting against Assoumani.

Police arrested Soilihi Mohammed, one of 12 politicians who ran against President Azali Assoumani in Sunday's election. Police also took into custody more than a dozen women who were protesting against Assoumani's government. Mohamed is head of an opposition transitional authority that aims to replace Assoumani.

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