Cautious optimism after calm Anjouan elections

Results from the election on 29 June show that voters on the Comorian island of Anjouan have chosen their next president and observers hope a year of political turmoil will make way for calm and much needed development.

Moussa Toybou topped the polls with 52.37 percent, just ahead of Mohamed Djaanfari, who got 47.63 percent, according to the preliminary results released on 1 July by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). No changes to these figures are anticipated, and the Comoros Constitutional Court is expected to officially validate the results today.

"The elections were well organised in a calm and serene atmosphere – all international and local observers hailed the election as free, fair, credible and transparent," the UN Resident Coordinator in the Comoros, Opia Kumah, told IRIN.

The CENI statement said some 128,000 of Anjouan's 300,000 people were entitled to vote, and just over 62,000 cast their ballots in a turnout of 48.98 percent.

Political volatility has been a hallmark of Comoros since the islands achieved independence from France in 1975, and the archipelago has weathered about 20 successful and attempted coups to date, so calm elections are new to Anjouan.

In the latest political struggle Mohammed Bacar refuse to step down as president of Anjouan in disputed elections held in June 2007. Roughly a year later Bacar fled when a military operation, backed by the African Union (AU), allowed the central government to regain control of the island at the end of March 2008.

Reuniting the union

The complex electoral system of the three-island Comorian archipelago, which provides for a semi-autonomous government and president for each island, with a rotating presidency for the over-arching Union government, has long been a source of political contention.

Toybou, relatively new to Comoros politics, was openly backed by the President of the Union, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, while the presidents of the two other semi-autonomous islands that make up the Union of Comoros, Moheli and Grande Comore, supported the runner-up, Djaanfari.

"Clearly, this makes life easier for Sambi," Kumah commented, and added that the calm election boded well for the future. "We believe firmly that a peaceful outcome contributes to minimising conflict and laying the foundation for sustainable development."

''We believe firmly that a peaceful outcome contributes to minimising conflict and laying the foundation for sustainable development''

Development is much needed: as a result of political turmoil the economy has stagnated since independence, and Comoros' ranking slipped from 132 in 2004 to 134 in 2004 in the Human Development Index of the UN Development Programme.

The first round of voting for president of Anjouan was held on 15 June, followed by a run-off on 29 June. A statement released on 30 June by the International Election Observer Mission, signed by representatives of the African Union, the League of Arab States and the International Organisation of the Francophonie, among others, said the polls marked "a decisive next step in the consolidation of democracy on the Comoros."

Kumah said an "Inter-Comorian Dialogue" was now being planned with the aid of the international community to bring Union and island political leaders together to discuss the way forward, and to revisit the constitution and the power-sharing arrangement between the islands.