Comorans have voted overwhelmingly in favour of controversial constitutional reforms that will allow President Azali Assoumani to seek another term, according to electoral officials.
Ahmed Mohamed Djaza, president of the Comoros National Electoral Commission (CENI), said on Tuesday that the “yes” vote was backed by 92.74 percent of the voters, or 172,240 people.
Speaking during a briefing in the capital, Moroni, Djaza said turnout in Monday’s referendum stood at 63.9 percent.
However, government critics and election observers are questioning the legitimacy of the vote, which was boycotted by the opposition and took place amid a crackdown on dissent and a general strike that paralysed Moroni.
“What a result! A faked vote, fabricated figures – that’s how President Azali consults the public,” said Ahmed el-Barwane, the secretary-general of the opposition Juwa party.
“In the majority of polling stations visited, there were fewer than 20 voters waiting to cast their ballots,” Jules Hoareau, a member of the Eastern Africa Standby Force observer mission, told AFP news agency.
“But when we returned we observed a sudden flood of voting papers in the ballot box. That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
‘There was no apocalypse’
Voting was largely peaceful, with state media saying “there was no apocalypse … the vote proceeded without any major incident”.
Two ballot boxes were destroyed at a polling station in the Hankounou district of Moroni, located on the island of Grande Comore. A police officer was injured with a blade in the incident and taken to hospital. There were also reports of trouble on the island of Anjouan.
The result allows Assoumani to replace the current system, in which power rotates between the country’s three main islands every five years as a means of power balancing, with another that sees a president who can serve a maximum of two five-year terms.
Assoumani will also gain the power to scrap other constitutional checks and balances, including the country’s three vice presidencies and a clause on secularism, which will be replaced by a statement confirming Islam as the “religion of the state”.
Ninety-nine percent of Comoros’ almost 800,000 inhabitants are Sunni Muslims.
Assoumani is now expected to hold early elections next year to extend his time in office, he had promised to stand down if his reforms did not pass.
Having taken power in a military coup, Assoumani served as president between 1999 and 2002. He stepped down in 2006, after winning the country’s first multiparty elections in 2002.
He returned to the country’s top post in 2016, following an election blighted by violence and allegations of voting irregularities.
In April, Assoumani suspended the Constitutional Court over “incompetence”. His spokesperson said at the time that the institution had become “useless, superfluous and incompetent”.
Assoumani banned protests in May and the former President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was placed under house arrest after returning from abroad.
In June, Ahmed Said Jaffar, one of the country’s vice presidents was stripped of all but one of his ministerial roles after urging Comorans to “reject the dangerous abuse of power” in the referendum.
Last week, Moustoidrane Abdou, one of the country’s vice presidents, escaped an assassination attempt by motorcycle-riding gunmen
The Indian Ocean archipelago has suffered repeated coups since gaining independence from France in 1975 and ranks among the world’s poorest.