November 26, 2018 / 12:30 PM / 19 days ago

Comoros lawmakers defeat move giving president full powers before elections

FILE PHOTO: President Azali Assoumani of Comoros waits to address the 71st United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

MORONI (Reuters) - A group of Comoros lawmakers have defeated a move which would have allowed President Azali Assoumani to bypass parliament before elections which he wants to contest despite violent opposition.

Assoumani’s attempt to extend limits on presidential terms and run in polls expected in early 2019 has provoked clashes on the archipelago’s Anjouan island.

The speaker of parliament called off on Saturday a vote on a legal amendment empowering Assoumani to pass laws by presidential decree for three months. Government ministers stayed away when it became clear that 21 out of the 33 members of parliament (MPs) opposed the move.

“If President Azali failed to convince the 21 opposing MPs, how will he convince the people in the presidential elections? We will keep the fight for the respect of our institution and against the illegality,” Oumouri Mmadi Hassani, spokesman for the 21 lawmakers, told reporters.

Assoumani has said a referendum in June approved the extension of term limits and an end to a system under which the presidency is rotated among the country’s three main islands. The opposition declared the vote illegal.

Assoumani has been in power since 2016 and would have had to step down in 2021 under the old term limits. However, if he were to win another five-year term in 2019, this would mean he remained in office after 2021 when a candidate from Anjouan is supposed to take up the presidency under the rotating system.

Last month, the unrest worsened with government officials saying soldiers shot dead two people and wounded four in violence between masked men and the military in Anjouan’s capital Mutsamudu.

“President Azali cannot be a candidate in the presidential elections and therefore wants the MPs to allow him to dictate alone the laws that will govern these elections,” Mohamed Ali Soilih, leader of the national opposition, said in a statement on Saturday.

Reporting by Ahmed Ali Amir; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by George Obulutsa and David Stamp

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