Voters in the Comoros went to the polls on Sunday to select final-round candidates in the race to become President of the Union, but the constitutional court - the highest electoral body - could still determine the outcome. The ballot is aimed at breaking the cycle of coups and political strife that has plagued the three islands in the Comoros group since they won independence from France in 1975. "These elections are very important, first of all because they are perceived as almost a conclusive step in a long process of national reconciliation, and this is the first election under the new constitution - after the election of 2002 - that really tries to apply what was decided on the rotational presidency," said the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Comoros, Giuseppina Mazza. A 2001 power-sharing agreement, brokered by the African Union's (AU) predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, gave the individual islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president, with a rotating presidency for the Union, which now moves from Grand Comore to Anjouan. The first-round poll on 16 April, reserved for Anjouan's 117,000 voters, narrowed down 13 presidential hopefuls to three. An official announcement is not expected before Thursday, but "preliminary results indicate that Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, Mohamed Djaanfari and Ibrahim Halidi will go to the next round. Caabi Elyachroutu Mohamed [previously one of the favourites] will not make it," Ali Said Mdahoma, secretary of the National Electoral Commission, (Cnec) told IRIN. According to unofficial results published by the Comoran Press Agency (HZK), a 60 percent turnout at the 221 polling stations gave Sambi, a popular Islamic leader referred to as 'Ayatollah' by his supporters, 26 percent of the votes, putting him in first place. Djaanfari, a vice-president of the national assembly, and Halidi, seen as the candidate of the poor and reportedly the preferred candidate of the outgoing federal administration, both won around 14 percent. According to HZK, Caabi emerged with a mere 11 percent of the votes, a result barring him from standing in the presidential election on 14 May. He has reportedly contested the outcome in the constitutional court, citing irregularities. "Mr Caabi has sent an official recommendation to the constitutional court to withhold the votes from 20 polling stations, mainly from the region of Niumakele [on Anjouan]. If these polling stations are excluded, the preliminary results would change, and Caabi would go through. We are still investigating," said constitutional court director Mohamed Jaffar Abbas. The African Union (AU) sent a 462-strong force, known as the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC), to oversee the electoral process. Comoran security forces have been confined to their barracks. "No violence has been reported but there were terrible delays in Niumakele. In some places there, the elections could not start until one o'clock in the afternoon," Fransisco Madeira, the special AU representative and AMISEC chief, told IRIN. "This led to manoeuvres to annul the voting," Madeira said. "Now, the main problem is to see whether the decision made by the constitutional court will change the results and the order of the candidates, because this might cause havoc." The court has 72 hours after polls close to confirm the polls or declare them invalid. According to Abbas, "we will officially present the result tomorrow [Thursday]".
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