Comoros presidential vote re-run ends under tight security

Aboubacar M'Changama

Mramani (Comoros) (AFP) - Several thousand voters in Comoros, the archipelago nation off the east coast of Africa, went to the polls Wednesday in a partial re-run of the presidential election with the result hanging in the balance.

Former coup leader Azali Assoumani won last month's run-off vote by just 2,100 votes, according to provisional results, but a court ordered 13 polling stations on Anjouan island to vote again due to "irregularities".

Polls closed at 1500 GMT and voting passed off without any major incidents, according to an AFP journalist.

Just 6,305 voters were called to vote on Wednesday, two percent of the Comoros electorate.

The nation's constitutional court will announce the final results in the coming days, it said in a statement, adding that no provisional results would be released before that.

The inauguration of the winner meanwhile is scheduled for May 26.

Last month's vote on Anjouan, one of the nation's three islands, was tarnished by broken ballot boxes, interruptions in voting, accusations of ballot stuffing and some incidents of violence.

Turnout was high on Wednesday, with hundreds of people waiting in line during the day as armed security forces stood guard to ensure voting was smooth.

"We did not vote last time but today the military are protecting me and my blind husband," Boueni Aboudou told AFP.

The army deployed 200 soldiers in Anjouan, according to the country's Chief of Staff Youssouf Idjihadi.

In Mramani in the south, where voting had to be discontinued last month after a crush of voters, as many as 100 armed soldiers stood guard outside five polling stations located in a school, according to an AFP journalist.

- 'Concrete benefits' -

Assoumani took 40.98 percent of the nationwide vote in April, just ahead of Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi, the ruling party's presidential candidate, who picked up 39.87 percent.

Soilihi, who is known as Mamadou, said he rejected the provisional result.

Assoumani first came to power in 1999 after ousting acting president Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde in a coup.

He then won the presidential election three years later, stepping down when his term ended in 2006.

"I expect concrete benefits for my vote: a decent price for cloves, work for my children and food at affordable prices," said Idrissa Ahmada, a farmer and father of nine.

The three islands that make up the Comoros -- Anjouan, Grande-Comore and Moheli -- have a total population of just under 800,000 people, nearly all of whom are Sunni Muslims.

The fourth island of Mayotte voted against independence and is still governed by France.

The islands, situated between Madagascar and Mozambique, have been plagued by coups and political instability, and a disputed election result could revive tensions.

A first-round vote in February between 25 candidates took place only on Grande-Comore island, in line with electoral rules to choose the president on a rotating basis from the three islands. The April 10 run-off was expanded to all three islands.

Comoros' system was established in 2001 after about 20 coups or attempted ones, four of which were successful, in the years following independence from France in 1975.

The election winner will take over from outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine, who completed his five-year term in office.

Comoros exports vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang perfume essence, but poverty is widespread.