A controversial referendum Monday in the Comoros could scrap the tiny southeast African country’s power rotation system and end the single-term limit for the presidency.
Opponents claim the referendum on constitutional change is illegal and designed to allow President Azali Assoumani to seek two more five-year terms instead of stepping down when his current mandate ends in 2021.
Currently, the three main islands of the Comoros — an Indian Ocean archipelago located between Mozambique and Madagascar and home to about 800,000 people — are supposed to rotate power every five years.
But Assoumani contends that limits stability, and he also wants the authority to drop the three vice presidencies. One vice president, Moustoidrane Abdou, survived an assassination attempt July 22 when the car in which he was riding was struck by gunfire from a passing motorcycle.
The country has suffered more than 20 coups or coup attempts since winning independence from France in 1975. Assoumani, an ex-military officer, took power in a 1999 coup and won a five-year term as president in 2002 in the country's first multiparty vote. He won again in 2016.
Monday's referendum also would drop secularism and make Islam the state religion. The country is 99 percent Sunni Muslim.
The Comoros has high levels of inequality, with almost a fifth of the population living in poverty, the World Bank reports. The country's economy centers on fishing and agriculture, depending heavily on exports of vanilla, cloves and a perfume essence called ylang ylang, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's "World Factbook."