Djibouti, the strategic East African country, begins elections to choose the next president. The incumbent, President Ismail Omar Guelleh is running for a fourth term, although he has led the nation for 17 years.
The main opposition alliance has all but broken down with two rival candidates claiming to represent the group
The 68-year-old President Guelleh is vying for a fourth term after winning the last polls in 2011 with 80 percent of the vote.
“Democracy: it is what today allows us to live together in peace, security and stability in Djibouti,” the president said earlier this week in a tweet.
Out of the six other candidates aiming to dethrone Guelleh, Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Omar Elmi Khaireh both claim to represent the seven-party opposition alliance known as the Union for National Salvation.
Three of the other member parties opted to boycott the poll, leaving the strongest opposition group to Guelleh’s presidency in shambles.
While Djibouti is a relatively small country, its strategic location on the Bab al-Mandab Strait has attracted international interest from countries such as China, France and the US.
China, according to a top U.S. general, has signed a deal to establish its first military base in Djibouti. It would underscore Beijing’s growing global ambitions and raise the stakes for both cooperation and competition.
“We are in a phase of accelerated growth and the country needs Guelleh to ensure stability while completing all the economic development work started 10 years ago,” government spokesman Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told AFP news agency.
The East African nation is home to roughly 180,000 registered voters out of a population of 875,000.
Guelleh has ruled the country from 1999, when he took over power from his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led the country which gained independence from France in 1977.