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|ISSUE 51 January 11, 2003||
Djibouti Counts Votes After 'Peaceful' Poll
Votes are being counted in Djibouti after its first fully-fledged multi-party election on Friday. The historic vote passed off peacefully, with no serious incidents reported, according to the French news agency, AFP.
Eight parties are contesting the election for a new parliament after restrictions on political activity were lifted four months ago. They are grouped under two major blocs: a ruling party alliance, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UPM), and the newly formed opposition grouping, the Union for a Democratic Alternative (UAD).
Correspondents say that the opposition alliance has been weakened by the defection to the presidential grouping of a traditional opposition leader, Aden Robleh.
Fourteen female candidates are standing and the new parliament is expected to include women for the first time since Djibouti became independent, Reuters news agency said.
Polling stations closed at 1800 local time (1500 GMT) after the vote, a landmark in the country's history since independence from France in 1977.
Turn-out was reported to have been high to elect the 65 members of parliament.
Although no major incidents were reported, a number of voters complained that they had been unable to cast their ballot.
"When I turned up, they turned me away. There is no justice here, the state is afraid of anyone who votes for the opposition," Abdallah Ali Mahamade, who had not received his voter's card, said.
"They turned me away. I don't know why, perhaps it was fraud. I am going to wait outside the polling station until they let me in," Mohamed Hussein Osmane said.
Opposition leader Ahmed Dini Ahmed, a former prime minister, had warned on Thursday that the alleged non-distribution of voter's cards, the secrecy of the electoral list and biased polling officials would lead to an "electoral hold-up".
But President Ismael Omar Guelleh said that the elections were free and fair.
"We have done all we can. There is an independent electoral commission, observers, journalist, and the opposition is present at polling stations," he said.
A dozen foreign observers are monitoring the election.
There is a single round in which the winner of the largest number of votes will take up all seats in a constituency. First results are expected in the coming hours.
If the UAD wins against Mr Omar Guelleh's alliance, Djibouti will have a power-sharing government. Former BBC Djibouti reporter Christophe Farah says that whoever wins the election will have to address the economic crisis.
Most people in Djibouti are more concerned by their day-to-day survival than anything else.
Ahmed Dini has criticised the authorities for allowing the United States to set up a base in the country to fight its war on terror, saying it might expose Djibouti to terrorist attacks.