Guelleh re-elected Djibouti president for fifth term
Djibouti’s veteran ruler Ismail Omar Guelleh was overwhelmingly re-elected for a fifth term as president, according to final results announced this weekend, after the vote in the tiny but strategically important country was boycotted by the main opposition.
Around 215,000 citizens were registered to vote in the ballot pitting Guelleh, 73, against a little-known businessman widely seen as posing scant threat to the strongman, who has been in power since 1999.
Alexis Mohamed, special adviser to the president, said Guelleh received 167,536 votes compared to 4,408 for his challenger in the Horn of Africa nation, which overlooks one of the world’s busiest trade routes at the crossroads between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
The interior ministry confirmed those figures.
Officials said the incumbent tallied 97.44 percent of the vote, with turnout at around 82 percent, up from 68 percent in 2016.
Mohamed said the constitutional court has three days to confirm the results, if there is no challenge.
Benedikt Kamski, an analyst based in Addis Ababa for Germany’s Arnold Bergstraesser Institute, said “it was not a real election, it was more like a confirmation and the opposition candidate who was running was not very known.”
Friday night, after voting in the capital where most of Djibouti’s one million people reside, Guelleh praised the trouble-free conduct of the election.
– ‘My vote is useless’ –
Guelleh was the handpicked successor to his relative Hassan Gouled Aptidon, the country’s first president after independence from France in 1977.
He faced just one challenger — political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah — after Djibouti’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.
Farah, a 56-year-old cleaning products importer, had cast doubt on the transparency of the voting process, saying his delegates were not present at polling stations.
“My vote is of no use, nor are the votes of 80 percent of the Djiboutian people,” the opposition candidate told AFP in a text message.
Ahmed Tidiane Souare, the head of an African Union (AU) observer mission, said all candidates were free to send their officials to any polling station.
Farah, who had styled himself as the “flag bearer of poor Djiboutians”, had alleged unfair treatment during the election campaign, including that he was not provided security at his rallies.
Guelleh, and his extended family, have controlled Djibouti with an iron fist since he was handed power. A rare wave of opposition protests in 2020 were brutally suppressed.
His fifth term is to be his last, under a 2010 constitutional reform that scrapped term limits while introducing an age limit of 75, which would lock him out of future elections.
Guelleh has clinched at least 75 percent of the vote in every presidential election he has contested.
The vote proceeded despite a surge in Covid-19 cases and infection rates, and few wore face masks as they cheered Guelleh at a crowded final rally this week.
– Stable and strategic –
Under Guelleh, the country has exploited its geographical advantage, investing heavily in ports and logistics infrastructure.
In 2018, seeking to become a trade and logistics hub, the country launched the first phase of what will be Africa’s biggest free-trade zone, financed by China.
Flanked by Somalia and opposite Yemen, Djibouti has remained stable in a volatile neighbourhood, drawing foreign military powers such as former colonial ruler France, the United States and China to establish bases there.
But the country has also seen an erosion of press freedom and a crackdown on dissent as it has courted foreign interest.
The country’s economy shrank by one percent in 2020, but is expected to grow seven percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Djibouti’s GDP per capita income is about $3,500, higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa, but around 20 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and 26 percent are unemployed, according to the World Bank.
For Kamski, the analyst, Guelleh’s new term will focus more on economic development than on democratisation and he will look to a successor close to him.
© Agence France-Presse
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