Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros began casting their ballots for a new president Sunday from a crowded field of 25 candidates, with a struggling economy and poor infrastructure high on the agenda.
Polling stations in the country of less than one million people officially opened at 0400 GMT, although some were delayed by the late arrival of voting materials.
Among those competing in the first-round poll are a former coup leader and the vice president.
Only voters on Grande Comore island will cast their ballots on Sunday under an unusual electoral system that decrees the president is selected on a rotating basis from one of the three major islands.
The three leading contenders will then compete in a nationwide vote on April 10 that will decide the successor to President Ikililou Dhoinine.
Dhoinine comes from the smallest island, Moheli. The other island is Anjouan.
The system was established in 2001 in a bid to bring stability after more than 20 coups, or attempted coups, in the decades following independence from France in 1975.
Among the prominent candidates are Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi, Mouigni Baraka, the governor of Grande Comore, and Azali Assoumani, who led a coup in 1999 and is a two-time former president.
Moinaecha Youssouf Djalali, a businesswoman, is the only female candidate, in a country where the vast majority of people are Sunni Muslims.
Dhoinine\’s completion of his five-year term has been seen as a sign of growing stability in Comoros, though many candidates have raised fears of electoral fraud when voting gets under way.
"Real efforts are being made by the election commission and international actors to ease any political or social tensions," said European Union representative Eduardo Campos Martins.
Nadia Tourqui, consultant to the UN, added however that there were "a lot of suspicions" surrounding the poll.
In order to calm tensions, the electoral commission on Saturday agreed to a request from 20 candidates to ban proxy voting, seen as a possible source of fraud, "to preserve the peace".
On Sunday, voters will also be forbidden from leaving the island\’s capital Moroni or moving between villages unless they have an official pass "to avoid double voting", the interior ministry announced.