Election ruling rings alarm bells in Somaliland

A ruling that Somaliland will hold its oft-postponed presidential election without a voters’ list has prompted demonstrations, a boycott threat and warnings that the secessionist state’s relative stability is in jeopardy.



Somaliland, which unilaterally broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991, is due to go to the polls on 27 September. The poll was originally scheduled for April 2008.



In late July, President Dahir Riyale Kahin announced that he and the National Election Commission (NEC) had decided to discard a hi-tech biometric voters’ register that had recently been completed after two years of work, claiming that computer server problems had generated an unreliable list. A representative of Interpeace, a Geneva-based organisation that developed the new system and disputes the extent of the problem, was abruptly deported.



The two main opposition candidates, Faisal Ali Warabe of the Justice and Welfare Party and Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud of the Development and Solidarity Party, have threatened to boycott the election and refused to even meet Riyale unless he reconsiders his decision.



For his part, Riyale has ignored a parliamentary order to reinstate the voters’ list, whose suspension the assembly deemed illegal.



The suspension led to demonstrations by opposition supporters, the latest on 19 August in Hargeisa, the capital, with thousands of people.



"We want to show the president that we are fully committed to holding the election using the voter registration lists," Mustafe Abdi, one of the protesters, said.



According to reports from Lasanod, at least 37 individuals have been arrested since the demonstrations began, including regional officials of the two opposition parties.















Photo: Mohamed Amin Jibril/IRIN
Demonstrators take to the streets of Hargeisa to protest the electoral commission's decision to hold elections without voter registration

Credibility questions



Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, leader of the Union of Somaliland Journalists, said: "Everybody in Somaliland is worried about the country's current situation. If we continue without mediation the situation could worsen and conflict could arise."



Meanwhile, concern is mounting outside the country. The African Union’s envoy, Nicholas Bwakira, arrived in Hargeisa on 25 August and was scheduled to meet leaders of all major political parties. His visit follows that of Ethiopian Deputy Foreign Minister, Tekede Alemu.



Earlier in August, the US government expressed “profound dismay” over the registration issue. “We believe the list forms a sound basis for use in the elections scheduled for 27 September. We have directly urged President Riyale to reconsider his decision,” according to a press statement released in Nairobi.



Timothy Othieno, a regional analyst with the Overseas Development Institute, a British think-tank, told IRIN that if the minority ruling United Peoples’ Democratic Party (UDUB) went ahead with the election without the opposition, "they will have no credibility domestically and internationally and this may lead to instability. The lack of credibility may lead to pressures within Somaliland for change, which may not be attractive for Riyale both domestically and internationally."



But he warned even under current circumstances, the election date should be maintained. “Any further delays will have denied Somalilanders an opportunity to express themselves through the ballot box. There will never be a perfect election and a consistent tradition of elections will sort out these intricacies over time. The point being that Somaliland needs to get into the habit of having regular elections even if they are not perfect."



Three UK-based organisations invited to coordinate international observers during the elections have also sounded the alarm. In a statement released on 20 August, Progressio, the Development Planning Unit at University College London, and Somaliland Focus (UK) expressed “deep concern” at recent developments and hinted they would pull out.



“We feel that under the current circumstances, the only possible outcome [of the election] would be seen by a significant proportion of Somalilanders as lacking legitimacy. We are therefore concerned about whether we are able to provide the coordination and observation role to which we have been committed to date, unless the situation changes markedly,” they said.



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