Djibouti — Djibouti's ruling party announced Saturday (February 23rd) that it won Friday's parliamentary election, quickly followed by accusations of widespread fraud from the opposition.
Interior Minister Hassan Darar Houffaneh said the ruling Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) party secured 49.39% of votes against 47.61% for the opposition in the capital city, home to three quarters of the population.
The ruling party was also ahead in the other voting districts, he said.
Of the 114,733 voters registered in the capital constituency, 75,983 cast their votes, giving a turnout figure of 66%. The UMP polled 36,794 votes and the opposition Union for National Salvation (USN) coalition polled 35,464 votes. The centrist Centre for Unified Democrats (CDU) party captured just 2.91% of the vote.
The UMP is the party of President Ismael Omar Guelleh and has held all 65 seats in recent parliaments.
The preliminary results were immediately challenged by the opposition coalition, which claimed the election had been rigged.
USN spokesman Daher Ahmed Farah called the official results a "joke".
"The UMP is conducting massive fraud as usual," he told reporters.
Before the election, opposition parties accused the government of censorship and creating an unfair advantage by blocking their websites.
Friday's elections saw various opposition parties unite behind a common programme focusing on human rights, developing independent media and fighting against "tribalism, corruption and nepotism".
Opposition leader in Djibouti city Ismail Guedi Hared cast his vote at a polling station at the Zone Portuaire Sud school. Just after sliding his ballot paper into the box, Hared told Sabahi he was "confident the USN list will come out on top in the election".
"We are hoping to achieve a victory that will go down in the country's history," he said.
The leader of the UMP's list, Finance Minister Ilyass Moussa Dawaleh, cast his vote at the Djibouti Waste Management Office polling station, and also expressed confidence in the election results.
"We are hoping to gain the trust of Djiboutians," he told Sabahi.
He denied the opposition's allegations, calling them unfounded. "I am completely taken aback by these allegations. It is nothing new for us to see the opposition making accusations of fraud," he said, inviting USN leaders to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court.
"Every effort has been made by the organisers of these elections to ensure that the election is transparent and the opposition was 100% in favour of them," he said.
Opposition to hold protest rally
The opposition is preparing to hold a protest rally on Monday at Independence Plaza, three kilometres south of downtown Djibouti, where the USN headquarters is located.
Police were dispatched on Sunday to patrol the area, making many residents anxious that the protests may lead to violent clashes when demonstrators begin arriving on Monday.
"If the opposition has grievances they should address them through the legal system instead of destroying the city in violent demonstrations," said 35-year-old entrepreneur and UMP supporter Mohamed Waberi, urging all citizens to follow the law.
But Hawa Obsieh, 45, a middle school teacher and mother of two, said relying on the judiciary would be pointless because the government lacks checks and balances.
"All the judges in the Constitutional Court are appointed [and approved] by the president," she said.