NAIROBI, Kenya – The president of the tiny East African nation of Djibouti won a landslide re-election victory, an official said Saturday, in a vote colored by an opposition boycott and a clampdown on dissent.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh had 76 per cent of the vote with almost all ballots counted, Interior Minister Yasin Ilmi Bouh said. Guelleh’s only challenger had about 23 per cent of the vote.
Djibouti, a former French colony, hosts the only U.S. military base in Africa. It is nominally democratic, but Guelleh’s government cracked down on opposition politicians and rallies in the weeks before the election.
Riot police clashed with protesters in February and flooded the streets in March, when a second opposition rally had been planned. The government kicked out the U.S. vote monitoring group Democracy International. Opposition politicians have been detained and arrested before being freed.
Human Rights Watch said this month that Djibouti’s government has “trampled” on the rights that make a vote free and fair.
Democracy International’s country leader in Djibouti, Chris Hennemeyer, said he thought Friday’s vote was uncompetitive and that Guelleh’s re-election was never in doubt. The fact that the government released results within hours of the polls closing was proof of that, he said.
Guelleh has served two terms already. His critics lament changes he made to the constitution last year that scrubbed a two-term limit from the nation’s bylaws.
The U.S. has outsized influence in Djibouti, a country of only 800,000 people. On the outskirts of Djibouti city, across from its international airport, lies Camp Lemonnier, the only U.S. base in Africa. The base — which sits just miles (kilometres) from Somalia — is one of Djibouti’s major employers.