Djibouti votes in presidential election

Djibouti votes in presidential election as incumbent President Omar Guelleh runs for fourth term in country

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Voter casts his vote during the Djiboutian presidential elections in a polling station at High Court building, in Djibouti City, Djibouti on April 8, 2016. [AA]

Updated Apr 9, 2016

Voters in Djibouti are heading to the poll stations that opened at 6:00am local time (0300 GMT) on Friday, with incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh expected to extend his 17-year rule in the strategic African nation.

Djibril, a security worker who had just voted, said that he backs Guelleh,

"There's no question," he said.

"The other candidates have no policies. Guelleh has very clear policies: continue making advancements, development, and the ports. We have to stick with him."

His views were not shared by Houssein, among the 60 percent of Djibouti's population who are unemployed.

"We need something different," he said as he went to cast his ballot.

The presidential race is between six candidates in the Horn of Africa, the gateway to the Red Sea and a strategic location for world powers’ such as the US, France and China to establish military bases in the area. 

The East African nation is home to roughly 180,000 registered voters, out of a population of 875,000. Results are expected as early as Friday evening.

Guelleh, who is the clear frontrunner, in running for a fourth term to win, in the former French colony, after taking it over from his relative, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who ruled the country from its independence in 1977 until 1999.

The two main opponents, Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Omar Elmi Khaireh, are both claiming to represent the Union for National Salvation opposition coalition.

Three of the other member parties opted to boycott the poll, leaving the strongest opposition group to Guelleh's presidency in shambles.

The seven-party opposition alliance was founded in 2013, but had failed to agree on a single candidate to contest its first presidential election, while three of the member parties have broken ranks to boycott the poll.

Supporters of Ismail Omar Guelle, President of Djibouti and presidential candidate, attend an election campaign rally at the Djibouti Stadium in Djibouti on April 6, 2016. [AA]

Born in the Ethiopian town of Dire-Dawa in 1947, Guelleh grew up in the shadow Aptidon, who has been regarded as the father of Djibouti's independence.

After his family moved to Djibouti, Guelleh joined the police force and quickly rose to become Aptidon's chief of staff.

Following parliamentary elections in 2013, which Guelleh's UMP won with 49 percent of the votes amid furious opposition claims of fraud, rival parties demanded the creation of an independent electoral commission, which failed to establish and lead some opponents to cry foul and declare a boycott.

He further became more powerful with a constitutional amendment in 2011, which allowed him to be eligible for the third term. The opposition again boycotted the 2011 presidential election.

Supporters of presidential candidate Omar Elmi Khaireh attend an election campaign rally in Djibouti on April 5, 2016. [AA]

Opposition groups have complained of curbs on freedom of assembly and expression in the election run-up and human rights groups have denounced political repression and crackdowns on basic freedoms.

Djibouti has launched major infrastructure projects such as new ports, railways and oil and gas facilities, mainly financing with loans from China, aimed at turning it into a regional hub for trade and services.

TRTWorld and agencies