Djibouti main opposition party boycotts legislative election

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Djibouti votes in parliamentary elections Friday, 24th February.

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, secretary general of the only opposition party in the running, believes that “there is no substantive debate in this legislative election”.

Aden Omar Abdillahi, the head of a political research institute adds “this is the most boring election of the last 30 years”, with many opposition parties having boycotted what they call a sham election.

The Horn of Africa state of Djibouti heads to the polls on Friday for a parliamentary election boycotted by the main opposition parties, which have branded the vote a sham.

Only two parties are contesting seats in the 65-member National Assembly, where veteran President Ismael Omar Guelleh’s ruling Union for Presidential Majority is assured of victory.

Despite its diminutive size, Djibouti enjoys a strategically crucial position at the mouth of the Red Sea, using it to woo trade investors and foreign military powers.

The opposition charges that the poll, which follows a presidential ballot in April 2021 that saw Guelleh re-elected for a fifth term with 97 percent of the vote, will not be free and fair.

“This election is only a formality, nothing will change,” said a 32-year-old unemployed man who gave his name only as Ali.

Guelleh, 75, has ruled Djibouti with an iron fist since 1999 and the country has seen an erosion of press freedom and a crackdown on dissent.

The economy took a hit in 2022 from the war in Ukraine, a regional drought and fallout from the two-year conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia, but is expected to grow by around five percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The main opposition parties, including the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD) and the Republican Alliance for Democracy have announced they will not take part.

“Elections in our country are still not free, not transparent and not democratic,” the MRD said in a statement in January, describing Friday’s vote as nothing more than a “charade”.

“The people of Djibouti are deprived of their right to freely choose their leaders,” it added, denouncing the country’s single party” system.

Djibouti’s 230,000 voters will choose MPs for a five-year term, with the law stipulating that 25 percent of the 65 seats must go to women.

In the last legislative ballot in 2018, the UMP which emerged from a party that ruled Djibouti since independence from France in 1977 won 58 seats.

The Union for Democracy and Justice, the only other party running on Friday, took five of the remaining seven.

“This election, similar to the presidential polls in 2021, are not really taken seriously by the population anymore — the public interest is very, very limited,” Benedikt Kamski, Horn of Africa researcher for Germany’s Arnold Bergstraesser Institute, said.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc, said it would be sending an observer mission.

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