Political Dynamics

Political Dynamics

In the immediate aftermath of the Abdallah assassination and subsequent events of late 1989, a limited amount of political healing occurred in Comoros. Denard and his fellow mercenaries were expelled, although the fate of their vast financial holdings in the islands remained unclear. With the South African government temporarily out of the picture, French officials now oversaw the police and the army, and the remnants of the GP were under the watchful eye of French paratroopers. Among those released in a general amnesty for political prisoners was Mustapha Said Cheikh, leader of the opposition FD who had been imprisoned for four years for alleged involvement in the unsuccessful March 1985 coup. He was quickly proposed as a possible presidential candidate. Also suggested was Mohamed Taki, one-time National Assembly president whose power had been diminished by Abdallah's constitutional maneuvers; he had subsequently gone into exile in France, where his entourage reportedly included two mercenary bodyguards. Also announcing for the presidency was Said Ali Kemal, who had been living in quiet exile in Paris since being exposed as the sponsor of Australian mercenaries who had plotted to overthrow the Abdallah government in 1983. In late December 1989, members of the formerly banned opposition, along with President Djohar, decided to form a provisional "national unity" government and to hold a multiparty presidential election in 1990.

In an awkward but somehow effective campaign to keep himself in power, Djohar spent much of the early 1990s playing a political shell game with the opposition. He moved election dates backward and forward and sanctioned irregularities, giving his opponents little choice but to condemn the balloting as invalid. Djohar began this strategy within weeks of his installation as interim president, rescheduling the presidential election set for January 14, 1990 to February 18. Djohar's decision was met with demonstrations and violence that marked an abrupt end to the post-Abdallah period of national unity, hardly three weeks after Bob Denard had been expelled from the country. The February 18 balloting broke down shortly after the polls opened. The government was accused of widespread fraud, including issuing multiple voting cards to some voters and opening the polls to voters who looked well below the minimum age of eighteen.

Elections were rescheduled for March 4, 1990 with a runoff on March 11; Djohar was the official victor, claiming 55 percent of the vote over runner-up Mohamed Taki's 45 percent. Djohar had run under the banner of the Union Comorienne pour le Progrès (Udzima- -Comoran Union for Progress), basically a recycled version of Ahmed Abdallah's old UCP, whereas Taki had represented the National Union for Comoran Democracy (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie Comorien--UNDC). As would be the case in other Comoran elections in the 1990s, the sole major issue appeared to be the character and ability of the incumbent president rather than any matter of public policy or ideology. The Supreme Court certified the results of the election, despite strong evidence that the Ministry of Interior had altered the vote count, especially in the first round, to favor Djohar at Taki's expense.

In March 1992, with two of the government's Udzima ministers having broken away to form a new party and conflict among the remaining Udzima ministers growing, Djohar headed off the complete collapse of his government by convening a multiparty constitutional convention. He scheduled a referendum on the new document in May, with general elections in June and balloting for local offices in July. After one postponement, the referendum was held on June 7. The Constitution of 1992 passed with about 74 percent of the vote, despite intensive campaigning against it by the FD and Udzima, which by this point opposed President Djohar. Among the new document's elements were articles calling for a bicameral legislature and a limit on presidential tenure to two five-year terms.

The legislative elections, postponed several times, finally were held on November 22 and 29, 1992. They were preceded in late September by an attempted coup by junior army officers, allegedly with the support of opposition politicians. Possible motives for the coup were an unpopular restructuring program mandated by the World Bank, which entailed sharp reductions in the number of civil servants, and President Djohar's ambiguous threat on September 10 that his main opponents would "not be around for the elections." Djohar used the coup attempt as an opportunity to jail six military men and six opposition leaders "under conditions of extreme illegality," according to the Comoran Association of Human Rights (Association Comorienne des Droits Humains--ACDH).

Although a trio of French public officials sent to observe the balloting judged the election generally democratic, President Djohar's most prominent and determined opponents spent the voting days either in hiding or in jail. Two of the most important of the republic's twenty-four political parties, Udzima and the UNDC, boycotted the election. Given the president's own lack of party support, he spent most of 1993 cobbling together one government after another; at one point, in late spring 1993, he formed two governments in the space of three weeks.

The events of a single day in July 1993 perhaps summed up the near-term prospects of politics in Comoros. On July 23, heeding demands that he call legislative elections (he had dissolved parliament on June 18 because of its inability to agree to a candidate for prime minister and because of the lack of a government majority) or else face the prospect of "other forms of action" by the opposition, Djohar scheduled voting for late October. That same day, his government arrested two opposition leaders for public criticism of the president.

The scheduled elections were again postponed--for the fourth time--until December 1993. On November 17, 1993, Djohar created a new National Electoral Commission, said to be appropriately representative of the various political parties. Meanwhile Djohar had established a new progovernment party, the Rally for Democracy and Renewal (Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau--RDR). In the first round of elections on December 12, which featured twenty-four parties with 214 candidates for fortytwo seats, various voting irregularities occurred, including the failure to issue voting cards to some 30 percent of eligible voters. The government announced that Djohar's party had won twenty-one seats with three seats remaining to be contested. Most opposition parties stated that they would not sit in the assembly and also refused to participate in the postponed second stage elections, which were supervised by the Ministry of Interior and the gendarmerie after the National Electoral Commission disintegrated. As a result, the RDR gained a total of twenty-two seats, and Djohar appointed RDR secretary general Mohamed Abdou Madi as prime minister.

Denouncing the proceedings, on January 17, 1994, thirteen opposition parties formed a combined Forum for National Recovery (Forum pour le Redressement National--FRN). The Udzima Party began broadcasting articles about Comoros appearing in the Indian Ocean Newsletter, including criticisms of the RDR. In consequence, its radio station, Voix des Îles (Voice of the Islands) was confiscated by the government in mid-February 1994-- in September 1993, the radio station belonging to Abbas Djoussouf, who later became leader of the RDR, had been closed. Tensions increased, and in March 1994 an assassination attempt against Djohar occurred. At the end of May, civil service employees went on strike, including teachers, and violence erupted in mid-June when the FRN prepared to meet.

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