Djibouti's President Guelleh wins fifth term with 97% of votes

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FILE PHOTO: Djibouti's President Ismael Omar Guelleh casts his ballot during the presidential elections at the Ras-Dika district polling centre in Djibouti

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh won a fifth five-year term on Saturday after an election boycotted by most of the opposition, securing over 97% of the votes cast, official data from the Interior Ministry on Saturday showed.

Friday's vote pitted only one challenger against the incumbent - relative newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah. The Interior Ministry data showed that he came second with 2.48% of the 177,391 votes cast. Some 5,447 ballots were declared invalid.

Farah said the results were "far from reality".

"This outcome is undoubtedly the result of ballot-box stuffing, (which) occurred in the absence of my delegates," he told Reuters, adding they were barred from accessing polling stations to monitor the process.

Alexis Mohamed, the president's chief advisor, denied the allegations of fraud and said Farah had abstained from casting his vote.

"Allegations of ballot-box stuffing are absolutely false, the gentleman who raises them didn't even vote and in doing so attacked our democracy," Mohamed told Reuters over the phone.

Farah told Reuters in a text message he abstained from voting as he had been victimized from the beginning of his campaign until election day.

The Horn of Africa country, with a population of less than 1 million, is relatively stable, especially compared with its regional neighbours Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

It hosts U.S., Chinese, and French military bases and is located along one of the world’s busiest trade routes, the Gulf of Aden, making it a strategic post.

CONGRATULATIONS FROM NEIGHBOURS

Ethiopia and Somalia's leaders congratulated Guelleh on his victory.

One of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, Guelleh, 73, has been in power since 1999 when he was handpicked by his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon, the country’s first president after it gained independence from France in 1977.

He won the last two elections, in 2016 and 2011, decisively. Some opposition parties boycotted those votes too.

In 2010 his government amended the constitution on presidential term limits allowing him to run for office more than twice, though an age limit of 75 was inserted, meaning that this is supposed to be his last term.

Last year, security forces suppressed rare anti-government street protests which erupted after the arrest of a former air force pilot who had denounced corruption and clan-based discrimination.

(Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom;Editing by Clelia Oziel and Frances Kerry)