Today, Somaliland votes. In their fifth election since 2002, the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland will decide the composition of their local municipal councils, and which three political parties can represent the nation for the next ten years. Today’s outcome will not only set the stage for the nation’s political future, but also display to the rest of the world their claim for international recognition, and the strength of their democratic system.
However, the real importance of the election may not only be who wins and who loses, but how it’s perceived by Somalia and Puntland. For the first time, members from civil society from Mogadishu and Garowe will accompany electoral monitors to observe the technical process in many of Somaliland’s major cities. Yet for government representatives, it will not be the results in the capital Hargeisa that will define their perceptions, but how voting is conducted in the disputed border regions that will be most influential. Recent events and statements indicate rising tensions within these areas, and Somaliland would be wise to avoid taking a major stand during today’s crucial vote.
Internal concerns and external challenges
Somaliland’s democratic system has continued to expand over the last few years, and international observers have given many positive reviews leading up to today’s vote. The new electoral law passed in 2011, allows for officially registered political associations to challenge Somaliland’s three legal political parties (President Silanyo’s KULMIYE, UCID and UDUB) in municipal elections. Five new associations (UMADDA, DALSAN, RAYS, WADANI and HAQSOOR) met the registration requirements and were approved by the RAC.
In order to become an official party, the law initially requires a minimum of 20% in each of Somaliland’s six regions. The system limits their populations’ choices to three political parties to ensure broad based policy platforms, and to avoid previous tendency of narrow clan-based coalitions. The campaign was particularly vibrant and regulated, with each party adopting a different color and symbol to bring their supporters together, but with a structured schedule for the party rallies.
Despite the development of this democratic system, there are a few lingering concerns about the electoral process and the potential for violence within the border regions. Most notably, the former ruling party UDUB will not be part of this election, after withdrawing in protest due to their perception of bias within Somaliland electoral institutions. Although many of their representatives have simply realigned with other participating associations, the party still possesses the capacity to disrupt the vote, and one news outlet has reported that the backlash has already begun. During the night of the 27th, gunmen attacked the offices of Somaliland Election Commission in town of Erigabo, supposedly sent as a statement by the town’s mayor and member of UDUB party.
This incident occurred within the Saanang region, one of the three disputed territories (the others are Soong and Cayn) and on the frontline of the dispute between Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia. Somaliland has set up at least 39 polling stations in this region, and increased its military presence to escort the polling officials. This gesture was not appreciated by Puntland authorities and its Minister of Information Mohamud Aideed Dirir characterized the move as “naked military aggression.”
The government in Mogadishu has remained relatively quiet regarding the vote, despite the President’s prioritization of continued talks with Somaliland. One component of their silence could be they have yet to take a public stance on the self-declared state of Khatumo. The declaration of Khatumo occurred in January 2012 and united the three disputed territories under a single state structure as authorized in the Somali constitution. Although the previous Somali administration voiced support for the initiative, in practice the state structure has yet to emerge, as the regions remain essentially “governed” by traditional leaders whose allegiances drift from Khatumo, Puntland to Somaliland. Some Khatumo supporters have also expressed their disapproval of the election, as just yesterday Khatumo aligned militia temporary kidnapped members from a HAQSOOR delegation returning from a final campaign event. Somaliland tried to improve relations with Khatumo supporters by giving one of their leaders a ministerial position in their national government, and despite the best efforts of Mr. Saleban Isse Ahmed, the process of reconciliation still has on a long way to go.
Early Reports and Conclusions
Early reports of today’s election indicate long lines of voters in the hot sun, proud manifestations of national pride, and a colorful display of the growing spectrum of Somaliland’s political scene. The government has even instituted a “no car policy” preventing any private or public vehicles from disrupting the vote. So far the process has gone smoothly in most of the country, but multiple sources are now reporting heavy clashes in the Hudun district of Sool between Khatumo militia and Somaliland forces.
Yet unfortunately for the people of Somaliland a transparent and mostly peaceful process will not drastically redefine their standing in the international community. Rather, it will be how they manage their external relationships with Somalia and their regional neighbors that will have the greatest effect on their pending application for statehood. While it is essential that the locals of the disputed territories are given the right to express their allegiances and vote in Somaliland elections, it is not the time for Hargeisa to flex its military muscles and use the election to legitimate its authority in the region. The 28th of November will test Somaliland’s relationship with its external neighbors, and if it can maintain a measured level of restraint, it will greatly improve their hand in the many tough conversations that lie ahead.
 Registration of Political Associations and Approval of Political Parties Committee (RAC). 15 political associations applied to compete in local council elections but nine were disqualified after failing to meet the legal requirement set out in by The Regulation of Political Associations and Parties Law 2011.
 It is expected that votes will be spread widely between the seven parties; therefore it is likely that three parties won’t be able to meet this threshold. In that case, RAC have agreed with the parties to proportional ranking system within the six regions.
 It should be noted that this particular source Garowe Online is owned by the son of the President of Puntland, and often is very supportive of the regional administration, which certainly has taken a strong stance on this vote. I was unable to find another source to support their claims.