Azali Assoumani, the Comoros’ putschist turned presidentTue, 16 Jan 2024 19:22:19 GMT

The president of the Comoros, Azali Assoumani, is a former coup leader who later became a civilian ruler, the chairman of the African Union and another African leader who changed the constitution to allow him to stand for an extra term.The 65-year-old leader of the Comoros — an Indian Ocean archipelago that is home to just over 800,000 — won this year’s presidential vote outright in the first round, according to Tuesday’s official results.The victory was not unexpected, even if it triggered protests and claims of ballot rigging from supporters of the five defeated opposition candidates.But a threat of political turmoil hardly represents a break from the Comoros’ recent history.A former army chief-of-staff, Colonel Assoumani initially came to power in a coup in 1999, in one of the many military takeovers that have rocked the islands since independence from France in 1975.In 2002 he won the presidential election for the newly-constituted Union of Comoros, made up of three semi-autonomous islands, each with its own separate leadership.He reluctantly handed power to civilians in 2006, under a new constitution that established a rotating presidency between the three islands of the union: Grande-Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. He then retired from office and took up farming, before returning to politics and winning re-election in 2016 in a vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.Leaving power “was a mistake” not to be repeated, Assoumani once told a diplomat in the capital Moroni. In 2019 he held another round of polls after persuading Comorans to vote in a referendum to support the extension of presidential mandates from one five-year term to two, rotating among the three islands.This rocked the fragile balance of power established in 2001 that sought to end separatist crises on Anjouan and Moheli and halt the endless cycle of coups — the Comoros has suffered 20 in less than half a century.He won the 2019 polls with nearly 60 percent of the votes, an outcome rejected by the opposition, as well as many observers.Since then critics have accused Assoumani of a creeping authoritarianism.His arch-rival ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was given a life sentence for high treason for selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.Despite the controversy about his dictatorial past and his increasingly hardline elected rule, Assoumani was chosen last year to serve a one-year term as the chairman of the African Union, which expires in February.  Born on January 1, 1959, Assoumani trained at the Royal Moroccan Military Academy in Meknes and the Ecole de Guerre in Paris. He is married and has four children.bur-str-snj-dc/ach