Polls closed Friday in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where President Ismael Omar Geulleh's ruling party faced a single opposition party in parliamentary elections.
Djibouti main opposition parties, including the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD) and the Republican Alliance for Democracy (ARD), boycotted the elections, branding the vote as a sham.
"Elections in our country are still not free, not transparent and not democratic," the MRD said in a statement in January, describing Friday's vote as nothing more than a "charade."
"The people of Djibouti are deprived of their right to freely choose their leaders," it added, denouncing the country's "single party" system.
At least one voter Friday agreed. "This election is just political exercise for the ruling party, it does not change the situation, whether it is leadership or power shift," said a 42-year-old man who gave his name only as Hassanle, fearing reprisals.
Only two parties contested seats in the 65-member National Assembly, where veteran President Ismael Omar Guelleh's ruling Union for Presidential Majority (UMP) is assured of victory.
It is not immediately clear how many of Djibouti's 230,000 voters cast their ballots on Friday to pick MPs for a five-year term, with the law stipulating that 25 percent of the 65 seats must go to women.
A VOA reporter in Djibouti saw long lines of voters at some of the 586 polling stations.
"Voting is part of respecting democracy and it is a national duty on every citizen. We are contented the peaceful way the election is taking place," said Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh as he cast his vote.
Abdulmalik Jama Ali, representative for the Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), the only other party running for the elections, told VOA that his party was happy with the election process.
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"We are satisfied how things go and have no complaint," said Ali.
"For us everything looks beautiful," said Muhiyadin Abdirahman Ibrahim, a delegate from Guelleh's party, the Union for Presidential Majority (UMP).
The VOA reporter says vote counting will start Friday night and the official results are expected within hours.
The country's last presidential poll, in April 2021, saw Guelleh re-elected for a fifth term with 97 percent of the vote,
In the last legislative ballot in 2018, the UMP -- which emerged from a party that ruled Djibouti since independence from France in 1977 -- won 58 seats, with the UDJ taking five of the remained seven.
Guelleh, 75, took over the country from his uncle in 1999 and has since ruled Djibouti with an iron fist.
It is not clear if he will run for a sixth term, because of an age limit of 75 set in the 2010 constitution.
Flanked by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and across the sea from Yemen, the desert nation has remained stable in a volatile neighborhood and benefitted from its strategic location by investing heavily on ports and logistics infrastructure, and hosting bases for foreign military powers including France, the United States and China.
It dreams of becoming the "Dubai of Africa" with the help of foreign investment, notably from China.
The Asian giant helped fund a rail link between Djibouti and the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, which opened in 2017. It is also financing Africa's biggest free trade zone.
In January, the government announced a memorandum of understanding with a Hong Kong-based company to build a $1 billion commercial spaceport expected to take five years to build.