France’s Comorans fume over election cold shoulderFri, 12 Jan 2024 17:41:07 GMT

More than a quarter of the world’s Comorans live in France, but the diaspora is furious that they are yet again being denied a vote in Sunday’s presidential election back home.Incumbent Azali Assoumani is the favourite in the January 14 vote on the islands off Africa’s east coast, with the opposition divided between participation and boycott.France’s southern port city Marseille alone is home to tens of thousands of Comorans, with one association estimating the number at 150,000 — around three times as many as live in the archipelago nation’s capital Moroni.”We’ve been fighting for years for the diaspora to get the vote,” said 57-year-old Assoumani Said, a customer at the Restaurant des Iles serving up typical Comoran fare of fried bananas, sea bream and skewers of meat.Authorities have regularly promised to open the ballot to the diaspora, an estimated 300,000 of whom live in France — compared with 870,000 on the islands.But “every government has abandoned us. They’ve forgotten that we’re the ones who keep the Comoros going,” hospital janitor Said said.Remittances from the diaspora totalled over 20 percent of the archipelago’s GDP in 2022, according to the World Bank.”We feel like cash cows. They call on us when they have material or financial needs, but for the rest, they tell us ‘move along, it’s not your time’,” said Maliza Said Solihi, 39, a former Marseille city councillor.Said Solihi, a lawyer licensed in Marseille and Moroni, appealed to the Comorian supreme court to secure the diaspora’s right to vote.Participation is allowed under the constitution and a first law on the subject was passed in 2005, she insisted.But for “political reasons” successive governments have “found ways to avoid implementing these provisions, knowing that the diaspora will decide things if they vote”.The supreme court finally found her request “inadmissible” in September last year.”People are afraid for the diaspora, which does not depend on the government, to have its say,” said Abdoul Anlym Mladjao, a doctoral student in political science who lives in France.- ‘Worn out’ -New electoral rules issued in 2023 require presidential candidates to have lived in the Comoros for the 12 months before the vote — cutting out three opposition candidates at a stroke, Anlym Mladjao noted.Comoros ambassador to France Ahamada Hamadi insisted, “There is no wish to exclude the diaspora”.But while there is “political will” to let them vote, the process has been “drawn out” by the difficulty of compiling the electoral roll, as Comorans in France struggle to get their identity papers in order.Ismael Aboudou, a leading member of diaspora associations, said the whole community is “worn out” by the question, seeing a “rift” with authorities in the homeland.President Assoumani is a former colonel and was chief of general staff when the army took power in a 1999 coup — one of several to have hit the islands since their independence from France in 1975.He has grasped power tightly to himself since returning to the top job in 2016.His chief rival, popular former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, is in jail for corruption after receiving a life sentence in 2022 — in a trial condemned for unfairness.Mohamed Ali Soilih, another opposition leader who was a defendant in the same trial, lives in exile in Paris.”We will fight for the right to vote, which is a fundamental right. But we will also fight against these elections, because Azali is an usurper of the presidential office,” said Omar Mirali, a young history teacher who lives in the Paris suburbs.A spokesman for the Daula Ya Haki movement (“rule of law” in the Shikomori language), Mirali says the group’s last member on Comoran soil, Zainou Ahamada, was jailed before fleeing to France, where he claimed asylum last year.The many demonstrations in Paris and Marseille show the community’s hostility to the current leader, Mirali said.”If they don’t have the diaspora vote, it’s because they can’t cheat” in France, he added.”All the opposition leaders are here.”