Presidential Elections in the Comoros: A Look at the Electoral System

The presidential elections in the Comoros are set for January 14, with the current president, Azali Assoumani, seeking re-election. The official decree states that the election for the president of the Union of the Comoros and the governors of the autonomous islands will take place on January 14, 2024, with a second round scheduled for February 25.

The main opposition coalition has been divided but has raised concerns about the fairness of the election, threatening a boycott. “We will not participate in another election charade,” stated Mohamed Ali Soilihi, the leader of the Enlarged Common Front, a coalition of the major opposition parties in the Indian Ocean archipelago, last month. “We want people to not participate in the next presidential election because it won’t be fair and inclusive,” said the opposition leader who is living in another country. The opposition is asking for the release of all political prisoners and for those who left the country for political reasons to be allowed to come back.

Since taking power in 1999 through one of the many coups that have affected the country since it gained independence from France in 1975, Azali Assoumani has imprisoned numerous political opponents. Many others have fled into exile, and a significant portion of the opposition in the Comoros is now based abroad. At the beginning of September, the Comorian courts rejected an appeal for the diaspora to have the right to vote. The electoral code allows Comorians living abroad to participate, but they currently can’t register to vote in practice. Countries with Elections in 2024: Dates and Details From Around the Globe

Elections in the Comoros: A Historical Overview

Elections in the Comoros are conducted in a multi-party system, involving the direct election of the President and the majority of the members of the Assembly of the Union.

1945Selection of representatives to the French National AssemblySaïd Mohamed Cheikh elected from the islands
1946First General Council election
1952Transition to Territorial Assembly
1962Transformation into Chamber of Deputies
1978Commencement of presidential electionsAhmed Abdallah emerged as the sole candidate
1982Establishment of the Comorian Union for Progress (Uzdima)Acquired 37 out of 38 seats in parliamentary elections
1984Presidential electionsAbdallah was the sole candidate
1987Parliamentary electionsUzima clinched all 42 seats
1990Onset of multi-party politicsVictory of Said Mohamed Djohar of Udzima in the presidential elections
1992Dispersed legislature14 parties secured seats, none holding more than seven
1993Pro-presidential Rally for Democracy and Renewal secured majorityClaimed 28 out of 42 seats in early elections
1996Victory of Abdoulkarim in presidential electionsNational Rally for Development secured 36 out of 43 seats in parliamentary elections
2002Presidential electionsIndependent candidate Azali Assoumani elected unopposed
2004Parliamentary electionsTriumph for the opposition Camp of the Autonomous Islands
2006Presidential electionsVictory for Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi
2009Parliamentary electionsSecured by the Baobab movement supporting the President
2010Presidential electionsIkililou Dhoinine elected as president
2015Parliamentary electionsUnion for the Development of the Comoros emerged as the largest party with eight seats
2018Constitutional referendumAltered the electoral system

Evolution of the Electoral Landscape

Post-World War II, the Comoros initiated the selection of representatives to the French National Assembly, with Saïd Mohamed Cheikh elected from the islands in 1945. This was followed by the first General Council election in the subsequent year. The evolution continued as the Council transitioned into the Territorial Assembly in 1952, and further transformed into the Chamber of Deputies by 1962.

The period of the mid-1970s marked the nation’s independence and the commencement of presidential elections in October 1978, with Ahmed Abdallah emerging as the sole candidate. In the parliamentary elections later that year, all candidates ran as independents. Notably, preceding the 1982 parliamentary elections, the Comorian Union for Progress (Uzdima) was established as the exclusive legal party, acquiring 37 out of 38 seats, with the remaining one going to an independent candidate.

The 1984 presidential elections saw Abdallah as the lone candidate, while in the 1987 parliamentary elections, Uzima clinched all 42 seats. The onset of multi-party politics was observed in 1990, reflected in the victory of Said Mohamed Djohar of Udzima in the presidential elections over Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim of the National Union for Democracy in the Comoros.

The 1992 parliamentary elections resulted in a dispersed legislature, with 14 parties securing seats, none holding more than seven. Subsequently, in the early elections the succeeding year, the pro-presidential Rally for Democracy and Renewal secured the majority, claiming 28 out of 42 seats. The 1996 presidential elections were won by Abdoulkarim, followed by the pro-Abdoulkarim National Rally for Development securing 36 out of 43 seats in the parliamentary elections later that year amidst an opposition boycott.

A coup led to the suspension of the subsequent presidential elections until 2002, when independent candidate Azali Assoumani was elected unopposed in the second round after opposition boycotts. Conversely, parliamentary elections in 2004 resulted in a triumph for the opposition Camp of the Autonomous Islands. Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi emerged victorious in the 2006 presidential elections, and the 2009 parliamentary elections were secured by the Baobab movement, supportive of the President.

The 2010 presidential elections saw Ikililou Dhoinine elected as president, while the delayed 2015 parliamentary elections culminated in a fragmented Assembly, with the Union for the Development of the Comoros emerging as the largest party with eight seats.

Electoral Mechanisms

Presidential Elections: The President of the Comoros is elected for a five-year term through the two-round system. Before the 2018 referendum that altered the electoral system, the presidency rotated among the Comoros’ three main islands: Anjouan, Grande Comore, and Mohéli. During an island’s presidency term, the first round was conducted on that particular island, with the top three candidates advancing to a nationwide second round.

Assembly of the Union: The Assembly of the Union comprises 33 seats, with 24 seats directly elected in single-member constituencies using the two-round system, and the remaining nine seats elected by the Island assemblies, each electing three members.

Significance of Referendums

The Comoros has witnessed several pivotal referendums. In 1958, the islands voted to join the new French constitution, leading to their integration into the French Community.

The year 1974 marked the independence vote, with an overwhelming majority (95%) in favor of independence. However, Mayotte opposed independence and was consequently separated from the rest of the Comoros, remaining under French authority.

Following the nation’s independence, several referendums were conducted to determine the presidency and the constitution of the country. A constitutional referendum in 1978 saw 99% of voters in favor of the new constitution.

Subsequent constitutional referendums took place in 1989, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2009, and 2018, signifying the evolving democratic landscape of the Comoros.