Veteran Djibouti leader Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected to a fifth term as president with more than 98% of the vote, according to provisional results announced early Saturday after elections in the small but strategically important country were boycotted by the main opposition. .
Around 215,000 citizens registered to vote in the poll pitting 73-year-old Guelleh against a little-known businessman widely seen as posing little threat to the strongman, in power since 1999.
The tally began shortly after polling stations closed on Friday in the Horn of Africa country, which overlooks one of the world’s busiest trade routes, at the crossroads between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. .
“President Ismail Omar Guelleh obtained 167,535 votes, or 98.58%,” Interior Minister Moumin Ahmed Cheick told RTD on Saturday, adding that the confirmed results would soon be published by the Constitutional Council.
Independent election observers said the process went smoothly, with no reports of misconduct.
Thank you for your trust, thank you for Djibouti!
Let’s continue together! pic.twitter.com/ak8zqSsMkC
– Ismail Omar Guelleh (@IsmailOguelleh) April 10, 2021
In an article published on social media on Saturday, Guelleh wrote: “Thank you for your trust, thank you for Djibouti! Together, let’s continue! “
Previously, after having voted in the capital where most of Djibouti’s one million inhabitants reside, Guelleh praised the smooth running of the electoral exercise.
Dressed in immaculate white traditional dresses, he said he was “very, very confident” of victory, after placing his vote in a transparent ballot box.
“My vote is useless”
Guelleh was the handpicked successor to his parent Hassan Gouled Aptidon, the country’s first president after independence from France in 1977.
He faced only one challenger – political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah – after Djibouti’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.
Farah, a 56-year-old importer of cleaning products, received less than 5,000 votes, according to preliminary results.
Farah questioned the transparency of the voting process, saying his delegates were not present at the polling stations.
“My vote is useless, no more than the votes of 80% of the Djiboutian people,” the opposition candidate told AFP news agency in a text message.
Ahmed Tidiane Souare, head of an African Union (AU) observation mission, said all candidates were free to send their officials to any polling station.
Farah, who presented himself as the “standard bearer of poor Djiboutians”, alleged unfair treatment during the election campaign, including his lack of security during his rallies.
Guelleh and his extended family have controlled Djibouti with an iron fist since he took power. A rare wave of opposition protests in 2020 were brutally suppressed.
His planned fifth term will be the last as part of a 2010 constitutional reform that removed term limits while introducing an age limit of 75, which would bar him from participating in future elections.
Guelleh won at least 75% of the vote in every presidential election he contested.
Stable and strategic
Under Guelleh, the country exploited its geographic advantage by investing heavily in ports and logistics infrastructure.
In 2018, seeking to become a trade and logistics hub, the country launched the first phase of what will be Africa’s largest free trade zone, funded by China.
Flanked by Somalia and facing Yemen, Djibouti has remained stable in an unstable neighborhood, attracting foreign military powers such as the former colonial ruler, France, the United States and China, to establish bases there.
But the country has also seen an erosion of press freedom and a crackdown on dissent as it courted foreign interests.
The country’s economy shrank 1% in 2020, but is expected to grow 7% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Djibouti’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is around $ 3,500, higher than in much of sub-Saharan Africa, but around 20 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and 26 percent are unemployed, according to the World Bank.