By Abdou Moustoifa
MORONI (Reuters) -Voting took place in Comoros on Sunday in an election widely expected to hand a fourth five-year term to President Azali Assoumani, while his five opponents said the vote was tainted by accusations of pre-marked ballots in favour of the incumbent.
The polls opened across the Indian Ocean archipelago at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) for the 338,940 registered voters out of its 800,000 population. Voting ended at 6 p.m.
Comoros has experienced around 20 coups or attempted coups since winning independence from France in 1975 and is a major source of irregular migration to the nearby French island of Mayotte.
Some opposition leaders had called for a boycott, accusing the election commission of favouring the ruling party. The commission denies this, saying the process will be transparent.
Five opposition candidates who participated said on Sunday there had been instances of ballot stuffing and of voting ending before the official closing time.
“In Anjouan, soldiers came to collect the ballot boxes before closing time in Nyumakele, the most populated region of the island,” opposition candidate Salim Issa told a news conference north of the capital Moroni.
Independent candidate, Mouigni Baraka, said in Mwali island they had reports of ballots being stuffed in favour of Assoumani.
Baraka and Issa did not provide evidence during the briefing.
Houmed Msaidie, Assoumani’s campaign director, denied the accusations and asked the candidates to provide evidence.
“False, there was no ballot stuffing. In all elections, if we have the human resources, there cannot be ballot stuffing,” he told a news conference in Moroni.
Idrissa Saïd, president of the election commission, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier on Sunday, Assoumani told reporters after voting that he hoped for victory in the first round.
The former army officer came to power in a coup in 1999. He has since won three elections and has served as the chair of the African Union for the past year.
He won the 2019 election with 60% of the vote, breaching the 50% mark required to avoid a run-off. Critics say since then his government has cracked down on dissent, an accusation it denies.
Comoros changed its constitution in June 2018 to remove a requirement that the presidency rotate among its three main islands every five years. This allowed Assoumani to seek re-election.
Provisional results are expected on Friday, according to the election commission.
(Reporting by Abdou Moustoifa in Moroni; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by William Mallard and Sharon Singleton)