VOTERS in Somaliland are casting their ballot in parliamentary and local elections on Monday, highlighting progress in the semi-autonomous region of Somalia that over the years has avoided the destructive violence plaguing other parts of the Horn of Africa country.
Long queues were reported in the early hours of Monday in the capital Hargeisa. Some of the voters have been queuing up to two hours prior to the opening of polling stations at 7:00 a.m. local time.
The President of Somaliland Muse Bihi Abdi told VOA Somali that the election should be conducted in a peaceful manner.
‘If one has a dispute when the election passes, the argument should be calm and civil,’ he said. ‘You should not undermine the interest of the nation. Complain peacefully, the court is open.’
More than 1 million people have registered to vote, a record in Somaliland. The previous presidential election in November 2017 recorded just over 700,000 registered voters, according to government figures.
Somaliland held six popular elections, and three presidential elections since 2003. But this will be only the second time that Somaliland holds parliamentary elections. The current members of parliament were elected in 2005, but quotas, allocation of seats, prioritising presidential, electoral laws have delayed parliamentary elections multiple times, observers say.
Among those voting today is a 17-year-old first time voter Amira Ahmed. ‘This will be the first time I get to participate in Somaliland national elections,’ she told VOA. ‘I’m very happy.’
Another voter, Mustafe Mohamed Abdullahi, said he received a text message from the election commission the day before, reminding him where he has registered to vote.
‘They told me that I got my ballot in Badda As [a neighbourhood in Hargeisa]. They said I should cast my vote there as a citizen. So, I’m ready,’ he said.
In the parliament, there are 246 candidates from the three registered political parties vying for the 82- seat House of Representatives.
Rights activists say 13 female candidates are participating in the parliamentary elections alone in a broader effort to increase women’s representation. There is just one female lawmaker in the current parliament.
Civil rights activist and former Somaliland representative to the United Kingdom Ayan Mahamoud has been advocating for the candidates from the marginalized minority Gaboye communities, and women. According to a report published by the Minority Rights Group International, an advocacy group focusing on global minority rights, the Gaboye ‘have traditionally been considered distinct and lower-caste groups.’
‘The two most pressing issues are rights of minority groups such as Gaboye communities and women,’ she told VOA.
‘There’s one Somaliland woman representative now, but fortunately we have 13 standing. If they are voted in at least, we will have 10 percent.’
The Gaboye community has no representation in current parliament, Mahamoud says. She has been urging voters to correct that record.
‘It’s only fair and just to break with the horrible past and stigmatisation of our Gaboye communities,’ she said.
‘Democracy is about equality and fairness and not only about the will of the majority.’
The Somaliland National Electoral Commission increased the number of polling stations to 2,709 from 1,642 in 2017 due to the expected higher turnout.
The increase in the number of registered voters has been attributed to the participation of youth in the election. This is also the first time in Somaliland that two elections — parliament and local councillors — take place at the same time.
The voting also coincides with two historic milestones in Somaliland. It was 20 years ago Monday when Somaliland adopted the constitution that enshrines the multiparty democratic system. Also, this month, Somaliland commemorated 30 years since declaring secession from the rest of Somalia.
Despite holding democratic elections, Somaliland failed to gain international recognition as an independent state. But this did not stop the presence of international observers. There are 103 international election observers who have arrived to witnesses the election proceedings, President Abdi said. They include observers from Europe and Africa, among them the former President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma.
Greg Mills, director of a South Africa-based group that is observing the polls, said in a statement that the semi-autonomous region ‘represents an example of an African country which is committed to democracy and development and deserves the support of every African who wants to see progress on this continent.’