MORONI (Reuters) - Voting began on Sunday after a two-hour delay in the first round of Comoros’ legislative elections, amid opposition claims of state intimidation in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Witnesses said that early ballot casting was peaceful but thin after the delay which was blamed on logistical problems.
Candidates of the coalition of President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi are seeking votes on the basis of the stabilisation of the archipelago’s heavily indebted economy.
They also point to a period of relative political calm after the removal of a self-declared rebel leader from power on the island of Anjouan in 2008.
Sambi’s opponents accuse the federal leader of trampling political freedoms, failing to tackle corruption and plotting to extend his time in power.
One of the new assembly’s first tasks will be to ratify a “Yes” vote in a referendum earlier this year to extend the presidential term and align together federal and local elections.
The opposition says is a ploy by Sambi to hold on to power while the ruling party says it is necessary to streamline a complex electoral system.
Voters will elect 24 parliamentarians from more than 140 candidates over two rounds.
A further three members of the national assembly are chosen by each of the archipelago’s three islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, bringing the total number to 33.
The opposition has accused Sambi’s administration of intimidating its members and supporters during the two-week campaign period.
Charges are still outstanding against Said Larifou, a senior opposition leader briefly detained by police last month, who is accused of calling Sambi an infidel. The authorities this week detained a local journalist accused of spreading misinformation.
For some in the ramshackle, dusty streets of the capital, Moroni, neither side offered much hope for progress in one of the world’s poorest nations.
“It’s always the same. We organise elections and then nothing changes. Whoever wins will just fill their pockets,” said housewife Fatima Ahmed, adding she had no voter card to vote with in any case.