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Veteran ruler Guelleh re-elected Djibouti leader for fifth term

Djibouti’s veteran ruler Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term as president with more than 98 percent of the vote, according to provisional results announced early on Saturday, after the election in the tiny but strategically important country was boycotted by the main opposition.

About 215,000 citizens were registered to vote in the ballot pitting Guelleh, 73, against a little-known businessman widely seen as posing scant threat to the strongman, who has been in power since 1999.

Counting started shortly after polling stations closed on Friday in the Horn of Africa nation, 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, which is 98.58 percent,” Interior Minister Moumin Ahmed Cheick told public broadcaster RTD early on Saturday, adding that confirmed results would be released soon by the Constitutional Council.

Independent election observers said the process went smoothly, with no reports of misconduct.

In a social media post early on Saturday, Guelleh wrote, “Thank you for your trust, thank you for Djibouti! Together, let’s continue!”

Earlier, after voting in the capital where most of Djibouti’s one million people reside, Guelleh praised the trouble-free conduct of the electoral exercise.

Dressed in immaculate white traditional robes, 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 relative Hassan Gouled Aptidon, the country’s first president after independence from France in 1977.

He faced just one challenger – political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah – after Djibouti’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.

Farah, a 56-year-old cleaning products importer, ended up with less than 5,000 votes, according to the provisional results.

Farah cast doubt on the transparency of the voting process, saying his delegates were not present at polling stations.

Independent election observers said the process went smoothly, with no reports of misconduct [Tony Karumba/AFP]

“My vote is of no use, nor are the votes of 80 percent of the Djiboutian people,” the opposition candidate told AFP news agency in a text message.

Ahmed Tidiane Souare, the head of an African Union (AU) observer mission, said all candidates were free to send their officials to any polling station.

Farah, who had styled himself as the “flag bearer of poor Djiboutians”, had alleged unfair treatment during the election campaign, including that he was not provided security at his rallies.

Guelleh, and his extended family, have controlled Djibouti with an iron fist since he was handed power. A rare wave of opposition protests in 2020 was brutally suppressed.

His predicted fifth term will be his last under a 2010 constitutional reform that scrapped term limits while introducing an age limit of 75, which would lock him out of future elections.

Guelleh has clinched at least 75 percent of the vote in every presidential election he has contested.

Stable and strategic

Nearly 215,000 citizens were registered to vote in the ballot pitting Guelleh, 73, against a little-known businessman [Tony Karumba/AFP]

Under Guelleh, the country has exploited its geographical advantage, 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 biggest free-trade zone, financed by China.

Flanked by Somalia and opposite Yemen, Djibouti has remained stable in a volatile neighbourhood, drawing foreign military powers such as 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 has courted foreign interest.

The country’s economy shrank by 1 percent in 2020, but is expected to grow 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Djibouti’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is about $3,500, higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa, but about 20 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and 26 percent are unemployed, according to the World Bank.




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