Mahoran status referendum, 2009

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A referendum on becoming an overseas department of France was held in Mayotte on 29 March 2009. Mayotte had been an overseas collectivity of France since 2003. In contrast to the four other similar regions (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and French Guiana), Mayotte would not have become an Overseas department (DOM) or an Overseas region (ROM), but would only have had a single assembly; the four other existing DOM-ROM will have the option of changing their status to this format as well.[1]

As a result of the yes vote, Mayotte became the 101st French department in 2011, and the first with a population overwhelmingly of the Muslim faith.[2]

The move has been opposed by the African Union and Comoros, who claim it is "occupation by a foreign power" and several protests have been held in Moroni, capital of Comoros.[3][4] The Comoran vice-president said the vote was a "declaration of war".[5]


The population of Mayotte was approximately 186,000 at the time of the election.[6] Ninety-five percent of Mahorans are Sunni Muslims.[6] Many Mahorans are fluent only in local languages, including Shimaore and Bushi, rather than the French language.[6] It is believed that one-third of the population consists of illegal immigrants, mostly from the neighboring, impoverished Comoros islands.[6] Continued political union with France has allowed Mayotte to remain relatively prosperous, at least by regional standards,[6] compared to the independent Comoros. The Comoros, which has suffered from economic and political instability since its independence, continues to claim Mayotte as part of its territory.[6]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a referendum on Mayotte's future status during the 2007 French presidential election.[6]

Many Mahorans hoped to benefit economically in the future with a possible yes result. The unemployment rate in Mayotte stood at over 25% at the time of the 2009 referendum.[6]


All of Mayotte's major political parties and politicians, including the General Council President Ahmed Attoumani Douchina, supported the "yes" campaign.[2] For example, Abdoulatifou Aly, a Mahoran legislator, supported the "yes" campaign arguing that Mayotte has a longer history within France than some areas of the mainland in an interview with L'Express, "We may be black, poor and Muslim, but we have been French longer than Nice."[6] The campaign also received strong support from the French government in Paris.

Public opinion polls leading up to the referendum showed strong support for closer political union from the vast majority of Mayotte's citizens, and the "yes" campaign was expected to win by a wide margin.[2] Many saw the comparative advantages of full French citizenship as greater than the need to retain some traditional local customs, such as polygamy, which would be eliminated under French law.[2]

Local opposition

Some Islamic imams and religious leaders had urged a "no" vote.[2] The imam of Mamoudzou, Mayotte's capital city, campaigned strongly against the referendum due to the expected abolition of polygamy with a "yes" victory.[2] "The law of the Qur'an permits a man to have two or three wives. I'm polygamous. I've already let go of two or three wives in the past."[2]


Early poll results indicated that the "yes" option had received approximately 95.2% of the total votes cast.[6][7] The estimated voter turnout was a high 61% of eligible Mahorans.[6]

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie hailed the results of the landslide election saying, "This will reinforce the place of Mayotte in the republic, reaffirming our founding values, particularly equality between men and women, the same justice for all, and the place of the French language."[6]

Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Yes 41,160 95.24
No 2,055 4.76
Valid votes 43,215 98.59
Invalid or blank votes 616 1.41
Total votes 43,831 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 71,420 61.37
Source: Direct Democracy

Referendum implications

With a yes result, Mayotte, which was an overseas collectivity, became an integral French department on March 31, 2011.

Local judicial, economic and social laws and customs will have to be changed to conform with French law. Mayotte will have to ban polygamy before it becomes a department.[6] Women's rights will also be brought to French standards. Women currently do not have equal inheritance rights in Mayotte,[6] which will be changed to comply with the French justice system. The minimum age in which a person can legally marry will be raised from 15 to 18 years old.[6] Mayotte would likely have to legalise same-sex civil unions, known as PACS in France.

The traditional Mayotte local court system, which combines Quranic principles of Islam with African and Malagasy customs, will be phased out in favor of the French legal system.[2] Islamic law will be progressively abolished and be replaced by uniform French civil code.[8] Mayotte currently has a traditional Islamic legal system consisting of qadis, as religious scholars are known, who act as judges in cases related to Islamic law.[6] Islamic courts and justice system will be replaced by secular courts, though the qadis will retain a role as legal consultants.[6]

As a department, Mayotte will become eligible for expanded French social and economic programs, as well as European Union funds.[6] However, the French government will not immediately extend the social welfare system enjoyed by metropolitan France.[2] Instead, social service benefits will gradually be extended to Mahoran citizens over a period of 20 years, until they are equal to those enjoyed in metropolitan France.[2] The French government has also promised financial support to strengthen Mahoran infrastructure.[6]

Mahoran citizens will see increased income taxes as a result of their full integration in French republic.[6]


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