(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Parliamentary elections set for Friday

Djiboutian voters will go to the polls to elect members of parliament on Friday, a senior Djibouti official told IRIN.

The elections for the 65-member parliament will pit a pro-government bloc of four parties under the umbrella of the Union Presidential Majority (UMP) against an opposition bloc of four parties, the Union for Democratic Alternative, (UAD).

The pro-government bloc is led by the current prime minister, Dileita Mohamed Dileita, while the opposition bloc is led by Ahmed Dini Ahmed, a former prime minister, who was also the leader of the former rebel group, Front pour la restauration de l'unite et de la democratie (FRUD).

Dini's group, better known as the radical wing of FRUD, signed a peace agreement with the Djibouti government in May of 2001, thereby ending an Afar insurgency in northern and southwestern Djibouti.

Both sides were making promises to the people, with the opposition promising "change", a local journalist told IRIN on Thursday.

The country, which has a population of about 640,000, is divided into five constituencies, each with a varying number of seats. The capital, where almost two-thirds of the populations live, has the highest number of seats with 37, and Obock in the Afar hinterland the lowest, with four seats.

Observers believe the ruling coalition will win most of seats, but that the opposition will do better than in the last elections in 1997, when all the seats were won by the governing party.

"They may get the Obock seats, where Dini comes from, and possibly one or two others, but are unlikely to dislodge the UMP," the journalist said.

"The 2003 legislative elections are important for two reasons," the Djibouti news agency said. "To begin with, they are the first to be organised in a climate of full political pluralism... Secondly, they will usher women into Djibouti's parliament for the first time."

The strategically located tiny Horn of Africa nation has, since 11 September 2001, become an important base for western forces - including from the US and Germany - in the anti-terrorism coalition. There are also troops from France, which already had a base in its former colony.

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