Opposition boycotts elections raising questions about its legitimacy

Elections with a foregone conclusion

Djibouti's President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has been in office for nearly two decades, thus making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. In the 2016 presidential election, the opposition boycotted the poll and Guelleh garnered more than 86 percent of the vote. His party has continued to consolidate its power. Legislative elections on 26th February 2018 were considered a forgone conclusion by the opposition. On election day, Guelleh's ruling party claimed a resounding victory, winning 90 percent of seats and further consolidating its long-standing rule over the small but strategically important nation.

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In early January 2018, the opposition party Mouvement pour le Développement et la liberté (Movement for Development and Liberty) announced that it would not participate in the 23rd February elections, stating that the inherent bias in the political system favours the ruling party and has marginalised the opposition such that winning any seat in the legislature is almost impossible. 

Daher Ahmed Farah, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development, claims that the government has backpedaled on a 2014 agreement to establish an independent national electoral commission. The lack of an independent commission on elections has created a situation described by Farah thus: 

“In Djibouti, there’s a problem of legitimacy, of democratic legitimacy, of parliamentary legitimacy because elections are never fair and free…without an autonomous body to oversee voting, it’s impossible to ensure the integrity of the process”.

Civil society organisations, such as the Observatoire Djiboutien pour la promotion de la Démocratie et des Droits Humains and the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains, echoed similar concerns over the integrity and fairness of the election process.

A recent report by Amnesty International noted that thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including former politicians, journalists and adherents of unauthorised religions, remain detained without charge and many have been denied the right to a fair trial. They are also denied access to lawyers and family members. Many have been in detentions for over a decade.