Under the 1981 and 1992 constitutions, Djibouti is a parliamentary republic. The president, who according to the constitution must be an Issa, is elected by universal adult suffrage; the prime minister, who heads the cabinet, must be an Afar. The legislature consists of the unicameral Chamber of Deputies, whose 65 members are elected for five-year terms. Before 1992, candidates came from a single list submitted by the ruling party, the Popular Rally for Progress (RPP).
In January 1992, the Gouled government named a committee to draft a new constitution that would permit multi-party democracy, limit presidential powers, and establish an independent judiciary. On 4 September 1992, 75% of the voters approved the new constitution in a referendum. And on 18 December 1992, legislative elections were held, with the RPP gaining 74.6% of the vote and the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) 25.4%. Other parties boycotted the elections on the grounds that Gouled did not consult the opposition in the "democratization" process. Most Afars did not vote. The RPP, therefore, won all 65 seats. Gouled was reelected, although not convincingly, on 7 May 1993. The four losing parties and FRUD, at the time a paramilitary organization in the north (Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy) accused the government of election fraud, a charge supported by international observers. Only 50% of the eligible voters were reported to have turned out.
In the December 1997 legislative elections, which were generally considered to be fraudulent, the RPP won 54 of the seats contested, and the FRUD won 11 contested seats, though their campaigns were supported by the RPP, in alliance. The PRD and PND contested the elections and received 19.2% and 2.3% of the votes, respectively, but won no National Assembly seats. There were no female candidates in the election.
In February 1999 President Gouled designated his successor, longtime advisor Ismael Omar Guelleh, who was then duly elected president on 9 April 1999 and installed on 8 May 1999. His cabinets reflected the proportional ethnic composition required by the constitution, with continued dominance of his sub-clan of the Issas. Barkat Gourad Hammado, the prime minister, was replaced by Mohamed Dileita Dileita on 4 March 2001.
In the country's first full multiparty parliamentary elections held 10 January 2003, an RPP-led coalition continued its dominance garnering 62.2% of the vote to 36.9% for the FRUD, which won no assembly seats. According to Djibouti's winnertakes-all electoral rules, the party obtaining a majority in a constituency is awarded all the seats. The next elections were scheduled for 2005.