Reports are emerging of widespread political interference in significant parliamentary elections taking place in Djibouti today, February 22.
Allegations of systemic fraud and corruption by prominent government sources threaten to undermine the first credible opportunity for opposition MPs to enter the National Assembly after 37 years of single-party rule in the country.
Recent verifiable developments include:
• Daher Ahmed Farah, leader of the unified opposition Union for National Salvation (USN), has today been arrested by police. This follows his arrest and subsequent release after popular protests earlier this month
• Officials are telling voters that they have run out of the white ballot papers needed to vote for the opposition USN – especially in Quarter 6 and Balal
• Army are being forced to vote for the president’s UMP party
• Ballot stuffing is reported at numerous locations across the country
• The 150 election observers from the European Union, African Union and Organisation for Islamic Cooperation have highlighted electoral irregularities
• Djibouti’s state-run TV is showing almost no coverage of the elections or the arrest of the opposition leader
The introduction of limited proportional representation in November 2012 gave opposition parties their first credible opportunity to secure National Assembly seats.
Over 150,000 people turned out for opposition rallies in the days before the elections, indicating widespread popular support in a country of 1 million people, only 200,000 of whom are permitted to vote.
Despite its small size, Djibouti is a strategically-important country that acts as a major regional port as well as being an ally in the US’ post-9/11 counter-terrorism activity and multilateral anti-piracy programmes.
Abdourahman Boreh, Djiboutian businessman and 2011 presidential candidate, said:
“22 February had the potential to be a historic day for Djibouti, on which opposition MPs would be elected for the first time since independence. Instead, we are faced with a sham election, in which there can be no hope of the outcome reflecting the will of the people.
“Djibouti is at risk. The people will lose faith in the democratic process if these perversions of democracy are allowed to continue. Political instability will not only de-rail a fragile country, but will have significant geopolitical consequences.
“Djibouti needs support from its international allies to decry this corrupt election. After 37 years of single-party rule, Djibouti people will not tolerate their voice continuing to go unheard.”