MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The Horn of African country of Djibouti is going to the polls on Friday as President Ismail Omar Guelleh seeks a fifth term in the small but strategically important nation home to military bases for the United States, China and others.
The 73-year-old Guelleh faces just one challenger, the independent candidate Zakaria Ismail Farah, who halted campaigning early while asserting that he could not do so in safety. In protest, he appeared with his mouth taped shut.
Critics call the president a heavy-handed dictator, but others in Djibouti see him as a driving force in the country’s development and relative stability. The country is located on the Red Sea along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Guelleh has been in power since 1999 after the death of his predecessor, Hassan Guled Aptidon, the country’s first president. Djibouti won independence from France in 1977.
Guelleh told reporters days ago that he was no longer interested in power but was merely responding to the will of the people.
“it is my people, the Djiboutians, who asked me to run again and not leave them for the sake of the prosperity of the nation,” he said.
More than 205,000 people are registered to vote in Djibouti, which has a population of over 600,000. The country is a mix of ethnic Somali, Afar and Arab.