22 February 2013

Djiboutians Peacefully Vote in Hotly Contested Parliamentary Elections

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

Djiboutian voters peacefully participated in the country's first parliamentary elections without a majority list system on Friday (February 22nd), with opposition groups joining forces to challenge the ruling party's decades-old grip on power.

The 249 polling stations in the capital city opened at 7 am and closed at 6 pm. Results are expected after midnight.

The crowds were not large at many polling places in the capital, despite the day being a national holiday.

"The voting started early in the morning and has been calm and peaceful, we have not heard any reports of any violence," Fowsi Abokar, a resident and businessman in Djibouti city, told AFP.

Police were stationed in main roadways and public areas across the capital, and no security incidents were reported.

"The process of the election has been orderly, people did not have to queue for very long," said Abdulahi Jama, who said voters at polling stations in the desert villages outside the capital had already finished.

This is the first poll since 2003 in which opposition groups decided to unite under a coalition, taking part as the Union for National Salvation (USN). Opposition parties boycotted the 2008 elections.

In Djibouti, 173,900 citizens are registered to vote, with 114,000 of them in the capital. Residents of the city will elect 35 of the 65 members of the National Assembly.

President Ismael Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999 and whose Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) party held all 65 seats in the last parliament under the majority list system, said the elections were a "milestone for the democratisation" of the country.

Nonetheless, opposition parties have accused the government of censorship in the weeks prior to the election.

With the new mixed list system approved in November, up to 20% of the seats will be awarded proportionally.

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