Opposition groups in Djibouti have announced today that they will be boycotting the presidential elections on April 8, amid widespread concerns that the voting will be rigged.
Opposition leaders had until March 8 to put forward a candidate for the elections, but according to Government sources not a single person has submitted their name to the Ministry of Interior.
Sources confirmed that there will be only two names on the ballot paper: the incumbent President Guelleh and Mohammed Warsama, the former President of the Constitutional Court.
Abdourahman Boreh, a leading opposition figure who had intended to stand against the President, said he had decided to withdraw from the contest as he had been given no indication that the elections were going to be free and fair. He also feared that his supporters would face intimidation, and possibly violence, at the ballot box given the recent demonstrations in Djibouti which saw police fire live bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters.
“For months I have been campaigning for a free and fair election to give the people of Djibouti the chance to decide on their future for the first time in over 30 years. I set out a detailed programme of political and economic reform in my manifesto on my website.
“However, I decided that the election was not going to be free and fair. If I, or any other opposition candidate had stood, we would have only been adding to the perceived legitimacy of the election – a legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. I read carefully the very thorough report on election preparation by Democracy International and agreed with their conclusion that a more competitive environment was needed to ensure free and fair elections.
“I also considered the reaction of the Djibouti government to the recent peaceful demonstrations, including the arrest and detention of human rights activists and opposition figures, and the use of tear gas, beatings and shootings, and concluded that it would not be safe for my supporters to campaign openly for my election.”
On February 18 an estimated 30,000 anti-government protesters took to the streets of Djibouti to call for President Guelleh to step down. Another demonstration had been planned for March 4 but opposition groups were forced to call if off after armed police and soldiers came out in force to confront the protesters.
President Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled Djibouti since independence from France in 1977. Guelleh, first elected in 1999, amended the constitution in March 2010 to allow him to extend his rule by two more six-year terms.
Announcing his boycott, Mr Boreh set out what he sees as “the fatal flaws” of the election, including the fact that the majority of Djibouti citizens are not allowed to vote, that there is no transparency in the way that voting cards are issued and used, that the vote counting process is shrouded in mystery – and that intimidation at polling stations make opposition supporters fearful.
Mr Boreh has called on all Djibouti citizens who do receive voting cards to join the boycott.
“Opposition supporters will be compiling proof of the voting boycott in anticipation of post-election claims by the President,” he said. “In an echo of the 2005 elections, we expect that the President will make implausible claims over the turnout and the percentage of the vote he has received. We will work alongside Democracy International to make credible estimates on both, based on hard facts. We expect that more than 90% of adult Djiboutian citizens will not have voted, however.
“Having a President who lacks legitimacy domestically and internationally will have dangerous implications for the people of Djibouti. That’s why I am calling for a postponement of the election until we can be confident that it will be organised in a free and fair manner.”