Under the baking hot sun in Djibouti’s capital, campaign posters of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh line the buildings and supporters clad in the ruling coalition’s colors parade the streets looking to win over voters ahead of Friday’s national election. With a divided opposition and no strong challenger, Guelleh is widely expected to extend his 17-year grip on power in the Horn of Africa nation yet again. Guelleh, who is nicknamed IOG, has been in power since 1999 and is seeking a fourth term Friday. He won the last presidential election five years ago with 80 percent of the vote, after Parliament amended the constitution to get rid of term limits in 2010. Guelleh, 68, is Djibouti’s second president since it gained independence from France in 1977. He was the handpicked successor of his uncle and the country’s first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who died in 2006. Supporters of Guelleh’s ruling coalition, the Union for the Presidential Majority, are confident of an easy victory on Friday. “We are optimistic, especially when we see that the opposition party is straggling,” Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf recently told Agence France-Presse.
Three out of the seven political factions that make up the main opposition coalition, the Union for National Salvation, have already deemed Friday’s election a sham and are boycotting the presidential poll entirely. Rather than unite and back one challenger, the two remaining parties are fielding two competing candidates, Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Omar Elmi Khaireh.
Chehem previously ran for president against Guelleh in 2005 and quickly rose in popularity as a top challenger. He eventually dropped out of the race, citing a lack of campaign funds and harassment by the government, and left Guellah to run unopposed and win 100 percent of the vote. Chehem said previous boycotts have only allowed the ruling Union for the Presidential Majority to win elections without contest. “We saw that we had not advanced,” he told AFP.
The other Union for National Salvation candidate, Khaireh, said there is a need for “change” after “38 years of dictatorship” since independence from France. Khaireh is a renowned independence fighter who was detained by French colonial authorities during the struggle for Djibouti’s freedom. In a recent interview with BBC News, he lamented that government was not providing an atmosphere in which the opposition could operate. Three independent candidates have also announced they are running for the presidency: Djama Abdourahman Djama, Mohamed Moussa Ali and Hassan Idriss Ahmed.