Why is this election important?
Somalilanders will finally be choosing their new president on November 13 after inadequate funding, political disagreements and drought caused the polls to be delayed for several years.
The presidential election – the third since Somalia’s northern region decided to separate from the rest of the country in 1991 – was originally scheduled at the same time as that for the lower house of parliament, but the two have now, controversially, been separated, with the latter planned for April 2019.
While past efforts to register its electorate were riddled with inconsistencies, this latest attempt – a first in Africa with its use of iris scan biometric technology – has gone smoothly, and all parties have expressed confidence in the process.
The change in leadership after a divisive administration increases the stakes, especially given the delay for those waiting for their chance to take power
President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”, whose government has been accused of corruption and nepotism, is stepping down – so the stakes in this election are high.
“The change in leadership after a divisive administration increases the stakes, especially given the delay for those waiting for their chance to take power” Mohamed Farah, director of the Academy for Peace and Development in Somaliland, told Al Jazeera.
What will a new administration have to deal with?
There is the issue of two recent deals with the UAE, which would see it take over and develop the Berbera port, as well as building a military base in Somaliland. Both developments have significant financial and geopolitical implications for Somaliland, and have the potential to shape its future.
“Somaliland will have to play a critical role in the economic development and political stability of the region, … and there is a feeling that such large developments [could] be an issue for a new administration,” Farah explains.
Somaliland’s political system incorporates both traditional elements and modern political structures, but despite instituting a three-party political system to avoid clan-based politics, clan still remains a central factor in Somaliland’s politics.
All three candidates are from the same the clan, but shifting allegiances between sub-clans have been an important aspect in the run-up to the elections.
Who is standing?
Three candidates are vying to replace Silanyo, the current head of state.
Muse Bihi Abdi, who is standing with Kulmiye, the ruling party, was a commanding officer for the Somali National Movement (SNM) rebel group during the struggle to overthrow President Siad Barre in the 1980s. He also served as interior minister in the 1990s, and worked on reintegrating and rehabilitating ex-combatants during the crucial post-war years.
Despite some achievements, such as taking steps to improve stability in the unrecognised country’s eastern regions, the Kulmiye party has been accused of widespread corruption and clanism, and of conducting state business without adequate transparency. For example, Silanyo’s government presided over the controversial deals with the UAE, all the details of which have not been disclosed.
Bihi’s main challenger, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi “Irro”, served as speaker of the lower house of parliament for 12 years until he resigned to take part in the presidential campaign.
Irro’s party, Waddani, has been the most vocal in its criticism of the port and military base deal, and has vowed to review the deals – and possibly withdraw from them – if elected.
Projected to finish third in the polls is long-time leader of the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID), Faysal Ali Warabe, who has been opposition leader since the early 2000s. Unlike the other candidates, Warabe is running on an anti-clan agenda, and advocates for a welfare state in Somaliland.
What does the international community think?
An International Election Observation Mission (EOM), funded by the British Government, has been invited to oversee the elections by Somaliland’s own National Electoral Commission (NEC). The EOM includes a team of 60 observers from 27 countries.
“[We’re] particularly hopeful that the implementation of the voter registration system will address issues that have marred previous elections,” the EOM said in a statement.
It also is a milestone in the sense that, if it goes well, it will mark a maturing of Somaliland’s electoral democracy
Michal Walls, Observer and Researcher
According to Michael Walls, chief observer with the EOM and an academic who has researched Somaliland’s development, “this election is significant because it’s the first time an incumbent is not standing, and because there is a real choice between candidates”.
“It also is a milestone in the sense that, if it goes well, it will mark a maturing of Somaliland’s electoral democracy,” Walls told Al Jazeera. “It shows that Somaliland is capable of keeping the electoral process going, and that’s significant. There are many people, including from the international community, paying attention.”
When are results expected?
The vote will take place on November 13, but results are not expected until November 17.
All parties have claimed confidence in the NEC, and the transition is expected to be peaceful.