An Unstable Triangle: The Recent Legislative Elections in the Three Main Islands That Comprise the Comoros Were Expected to Restore a Measure of Calm in the Restive Indian Ocean Nation. but, Neil Ford Reports, Tensions Persist

By Ford, Neil | African Business, July 2004 | Go to article overview
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An Unstable Triangle: The Recent Legislative Elections in the Three Main Islands That Comprise the Comoros Were Expected to Restore a Measure of Calm in the Restive Indian Ocean Nation. but, Neil Ford Reports, Tensions Persist


Ford, Neil, African Business


The results of April's legislative elections have done little to improve stability in the Comoros. The poll comprised a key plank of the Moroni Agreement to return the country to some kind of stability, but parties representing each of the three main islands and opposed to the current president of the Comoran Union, Azali Assoumani, collectively won the lion's share of the vote. Whether the president can effectively work alongside the dominant forces in the new national assembly will be the main challenge to getting the economy back on track.

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Although pro-Assoumani candidates won six of the federal seats up for grabs in the national election, an alliance of parties representing the islands of Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Moheli) and Nzwani (Anjouan) secured 12 seats. Moreover, the three island parliaments are entitled to appoint a further 15 members of the federal parliament. The results therefore give those parties more inclined towards separation, secession or at least greater autonomy an overwhelming majority.

While complete secession seems unlikely at this stage, the three main islands are expected to push for greater control over their respective police forces, taxation and customs and excise. However, the parliament is less important than might be imagined, given that the country's president appoints the federal government.

The three parties formed an alliance in order to contest the election but their collective opposition to President Assoumani may not be a strong enough basis on which to build a lasting coalition. Moreover, the Anjouan and Moheli parties wish to distance themselves from Grande Comore in their bid for greater self determination.

April's elections for the national assembly were preceded by island assembly elections, which saw three island presidents, Abdou Soule El Bak of Grande Comore, Mohamed Bacar of Anjouan and Mohamed Fazul of Moheli, returned to power. The March poll saw Assoumani supporters secure just 12 out of the 55 seats. Grande Comore may be the biggest island, with the largest population and the capital city, but its 272,000 inhabitants are outnumbered by the 245,000 people on Anjouan and 32,000 inhabitants of Moheli.

The country has been in a state of flux since 1997 when Anjouan attempted to secede from the rest of the country. In reality, however, the Comoros has been unstable since independence from France in 1975. A number of coups have taken place over the past 29 years, several of them organised by the infamous French mercenary Colonel Bob Denard, while more than a dozen other attempted armed takeovers have been defeated over the same period. Indeed, the country's first president, Ahmed Abdallah, lasted just one month before being deposed in a coup.

A new constitution was agreed at the end of 2001, providing a greater degree of autonomy for each of the islands but the document did not set out detailed arrangements for the division of power between the federal and island authorities.

Negotiations during 2002 and 2003 failed to reach a satisfactory solution. The general atmosphere of insecurity has calmed down since last September, when a French journalist and local politician were arrested and accused of organising yet another coup, but tensions did rise during the election campaign when one of the Grande Comore government ministers was arrested and detained by federal soldiers.

PRETORIA'S INFLUENCE

Assoumani first came to power in the 1999 coup and has remained in control through the years of civil conflict and the creation of the federal state. However, he broke an earlier promise not to contest the 2002 presidential election, exacerbating opposition to his rule. Voting in the 2002 poll that returned Assoumani to power was held only on Grande Comore, so the poll was widely discredited among large swathes of the population. However, despite widespread protests over the running of the elections within the country, Organisation of African Unity (OAU) observers declared the poll "free and fair".

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An Unstable Triangle: The Recent Legislative Elections in the Three Main Islands That Comprise the Comoros Were Expected to Restore a Measure of Calm in the Restive Indian Ocean Nation. but, Neil Ford Reports, Tensions Persist
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