22 February 2013

Djibouti: Voters Head to Polls in Djibouti

Photo: Rick Bajornas/United Nations
Current president Ismail Omar Guelleh (file photo).

Voters are headed to the polls in the East Africa nation of Djibouti, where opposition candidates are taking part in parliamentary elections for the first time in 10 years.

No opposition lawmakers have been elected in the tiny Horn of Africa nation since its independence from France in 1977. That may change with Friday's vote, which will feature candidates from three parties competing for 65 seats.

About 200,000 citizens are eligible to vote at 480 polling stations across the country. Abdi Ismael Hirsi, head of Djibouti's electoral commission, tells VOA over 60 international observers will be monitoring the election. International media are tightly restricted.

Earlier this week, Djibouti President Ismael Omar Geulleh accused opposition parties of being "spoilers" who are a threat to the security of the country. Geulleh took over the country from his uncle in 1999.

Ignoring street protests, Geulleh's autocratic government amended the country's constitution in 2010 to allow him to run for a third term as president. He easily won re-election in 2011 following an opposition boycott of the vote.

The tiny but strategically located nation of about 900,000 people is considered a frontline state in the West's anti-terrorism efforts. It is bordered by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, and is just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.

Djibouti is home to the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, which is reportedly a key hub for Washington's campaign of drone strikes against suspected al-Qaida-linked fighters in the region. It also hosts a large French military contingent.

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