DJIBOUTI (Reuters) – Djibouti’s government and the Union of National Salvation (USN) opposition coalition have signed an agreement that will pave the way for opposition lawmakers to make their first parliamentary appearance, and for reforms of the country’s electoral body.
The USN has boycotted parliament since Djibjouti’s February 2013 parliamentary election which it accused the government of rigging, citing a range of abuses.
A legal challenge was dismissed in court.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, controls 55 of the 65 seats in parliament through the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP).
The February 2013 vote was the first time the opposition won any seats in parliament since multi-party politics was introduced in 1992.
Daher Ahmed Farah, the spokesman for USN, said the agreement was a culmination of 18 months of negotiations.
“The government and the opposition have 30 days from now for reaching a definitive agreement … on points that are obstacles such as the status of the opposition and the establishment of a free and independent electoral Commission,” Daher Ahmed Farah, the spokesman for USN, told Reuters late on Tuesday.
Political stability in Djibouti is critical, given it hosts the United States’ only military base in Africa and is an ally in the West’s fight against religious militants.
Its port is also used by foreign navies patrolling busy shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy.
The 2013 election was also the first contested parliamentary vote since 2003 when Guelleh’s party swept all 65 seats in a poll marred by allegations of fraud.
“Today the political leaders of the government and the opposition demonstrated their political maturity by signing the framework agreement on political dialogue between the Government and USN,” Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, government spokesman, said.
The opposition boycotted a parliamentary election in 2008 and then refused to field a candidate in the 2011 presidential election, saying that the vote would not be free and fair.