An unstable triangle: the recent legislative elections in the three main islands that comprise the Comoros were expected to restore a measure of calm in the restive Indian Ocean nation. But, Neil Ford reports, tensions persist.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:The Comoros
 
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The results of April's legislative elections have done little to improve stability in the Comoros. The poll comprised a key plank of the Moroni Agreement to return the country to some kind of stability, but parties representing each of the three main islands and opposed to the current president of the Comoran Union, Azali Assoumani, collectively won the lion's share of the vote. Whether the president can effectively work alongside the dominant forces in the new national assembly will be the main challenge to getting the economy back on track.

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Although pro-Assoumani candidates won six of the federal seats up for grabs in the national election, an alliance of parties representing the islands of Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Moheli) and Nzwani (Anjouan) secured 12 seats. Moreover, the three island parliaments are entitled to appoint a further 15 members of the federal parliament. The results therefore give those parties more inclined towards separation, secession or at least greater autonomy an overwhelming majority.

While complete secession seems unlikely at this stage, the three main islands are expected to push for greater control over their respective police forces, taxation and customs and excise. However, the parliament is less important than might be imagined, given that the country's president appoints the federal government.

The three parties formed an alliance in order to contest the election but their collective opposition to President Assoumani may not be a strong enough basis on which to build a lasting coalition. Moreover, the Anjouan and Moheli parties wish to distance themselves from Grande Comore in their bid for greater self determination.

April's elections for the national assembly were preceded by island assembly elections, which saw three island presidents, Abdou Soule El Bak of Grande Comore, Mohamed Bacar of Anjouan and Mohamed Fazul of Moheli, returned to power. The March poll saw Assoumani supporters secure just 12 out of the 55 seats. Grande Comore may be the biggest island, with the largest population and the capital city, but its 272,000 inhabitants are outnumbered by the 245,000 people on Anjouan and 32,000 inhabitants of Moheli.

The country has been in a state of flux since 1997 when Anjouan attempted to secede from the rest of the country. In reality, however, the Comoros has been unstable since independence from France in 1975. A number of coups have taken place over the past 29 years...

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