Djibouti Ruling Party Seen Maintaining Grip on Power in Vote

Djibouti’s ruling party will probably retain its majority in parliamentary elections today, while electoral law changes may give the opposition a greater say in the nation’s affairs, said analysts including Aly Verjee of the Rift Valley Institute.

Lawmakers in November approved a proposal to make 20 percent of the country’s 65 parliamentary seats electable on a proportional representation basis. That may benefit the six opposition parties that have unified under the banner of the Union for National Salvation, or USN, Verjee said in an e-mailed response to questions on Feb. 20.

“Despite weakness in the opposition parties the new electoral formula should result in some parliamentary representation for other parties,” he said. “The ruling coalition will likely retain a large majority.”

Djibouti, which hosts the largest U.S. and French military bases in Africa, has a $1.1 billion economy that relies on services related to its strategic location on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The nation’s port provides the only access to the sea for neighboring Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation.

35-Year Rule

President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled the Horn of Africa nation since it gained independence from France in 1977. Guelleh changed the constitution in 2010 to allow him to extend his rule to a third term. A year later he won presidential elections with 80 percent of the vote following a campaign marked by opposition protests to demand conditions be put in place for a fair vote.

Polls opened at 6:30 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m., with initial results expected tonight, Daher Ahmed Farah, a spokesman for the USN, said in a phone interview from the Djibouti capital, Djibouti City. He said the opposition had witnessed irregularities at polling stations.

“We have already seen some fraud,” Farah said. “Many soldiers are illegally voting for the regime several times.”

Minister of Interior and Decentralization Yacin Elmi Bouh wasn’t immediately available when Bloomberg called his mobile phone seeking comment today, while a phone call to Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf didn’t connect.

Djibouti, with a population of about 906,000 people, is smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Economic growth in Djibouti may accelerate to 5 percent in 2013 from 4.8 percent the year before, boosted by trade links with Ethiopia, increased port activity, construction and foreign investment, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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