Decorated with banners and posters bearing pictures of candidates for Somaliland’s parliamentary and local council elections, the streets of the capital Hargeisa and the regions were calling for the electorate to cast their votes for the candidates they prefer. Preparations for the Monday May 31, 2021 elections have been going on for months.
“This is a historical election,” some exclaim in informal and formal meetings. That is because the parliament has not changed since 2005, the first parliamentary elections the country held. “The people have been waiting for the parliament to change.”
Somaliland is holding a double election of both parliamentary and local elections for the first time, which is demanding both financially and logistically. However, most of the electoral expenses were covered by the Somaliland government, it was announced.
Three political parties presented 799 candidates for both levels of elections, among whom are 28 female candidates. Somalilanders speak proudly about this feat. And candidates representing the Gaboye minority are part of this years’ elections too.
Kulmiye, the ruling party, Ucid (U’id), and Waddani parties were doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the 1.06 million registered voters. The eligible voting age in Somaliland begins at 15, according to the Sharia law. Some 30,000 poll workers serve these voters in 2,709 polling stations, according to data from the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Somaliland. More than 45 international observers were also present.
The United Kingdom, the European Union, the Center for Policy Analysis, Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, the Somali Non-State Actors Forum as well as the three parties partnered to the elections, the NEC reported.
“This morning, I cast my vote in the country’s first combined Parliamentary and Local Council Elections at a polling station in the Civil Service Commission in Hargeisa. Somaliland votes for peace. It is an honor for our people and the Horn of Africa,” President Muse Bihi Abdi tweeted on Monday.
The commotion of his entourage leaving the said polling station on that morning was eye catching as people waved to their President whose vehicle’s window was rolled down so that the people have a clear sight of him.
“All started peacefully. But it is too early to say much more than this,” pointed Ernest Bai Koroma, former President of Sierra Leone who led a team of South Africa’s Brenthurst Foundation observers to Somaliland.
These elections, however, did not come easily. They were postponed repeatedly since 2005. The original plans were to conduct the elections in March, and then August of 2019. But the NEC failed to deliver according to the plan. So, because of pressures from the three parties, it was finally decided for May 31, 2021.
Somaliland held six successful democratic elections, including three Presidential elections (in April 2003, June 2010 and November 2017), one parliamentary election (in September 2005) and two local council elections (in December 2002 and November 2012), according to Center for Policy Analysis, a thinktank based in Somaliland.
The relatively peaceful part of the Horn of Africa, Somaliland hopes to get much more than parliamentary representatives out of this double election; getting recognition from the international community is at the heart of the elections.
Speaking to journalists after casting his vote at the polling station in which the President voted, Mohamed Kahin Ahmed, the Interior Minister, said: “I do believe and it is obvious as it had been declared by international observers that Somaliland election is much better in security, performance and [participation of] major parties on the continent of Africa and some countries of the third world.” He added: “This election is very important to win recognition from the international community, for strengthening our democratic process [and] for our constitution. We’ll be trying to get recognition from the international community.”
But he admits that the double polls would be challenging for the yet to be recognized nation, but “I believe that it will grow on and our people are experienced,” he added.
Similarly, the chairperson of the opposition Waddani Party, Abdurahman Mohammed Abdullahi, hopes the elections would help them get recognition from the international community.
“It is a competition like football. There’s always a chance to win as well. We expect to win as a party,” he stated to journalists.
For him this election is very important because, “the people have been waiting for the parliament to change for 15 years and the local government for eight years. So, this is extremely important for the Somali people,” he asserted.
“I will say to the world, the international community, you have to pay much attention to Somaliland. The ongoing process in Somaliland is Democratic unlike many African countries. This is an example of democracy working in Africa. So, I’ll suggest for the international community to pay their attention to Somaliland.”
He argues that Somaliland is eligible for recognition and it meets all the necessary requirements needed for a country to be recognized.
Others including from the ruling party Kulmiye are also eager to show their democracy to the international community so that they can push for recognition.
But Somali politics and elections are not as smooth as they seem. There are hiccups in the process which Somalilanders themselves pick up.
In an article a social activist and women’s rights advocate Muna Ahmed Abdi published on the website of Center for Policy Analysis of Somaliland in April 2021, she points out that the elections in Somaliland have flaws in the format.
“The Somaliland election campaign module is different from most countries in the world. It is tribal based, not based on candidates’ ideology requiring that women candidates go back again to the tribal line and understand all the subclan structures and earn the favor of their respective clan leader. After that process, the result can be to face rejection, misplaced, shaming, and waste a considerable amount of time, money, and energy trying to persuade their clan counterparts even to consider their candidacy,” she argues.
In additi0n, she says, “If you are a university graduate and have a dream to serve your community or nation, and you want to be a candidate for the local councils of the Capital City of Hargeisa, you must pay a registration fee of 15,000,000 Somaliland Shilling ($1,764) with other filling expenses in the political party. Also, you are required to have property or wealth. Simultaneously, the candidate registration fee for the House of Representative is 40,000,000 Somaliland Shilling ($4,705). The Registration fee of the Presidential Candidates is 150,000,000 Somaliland Shilling ($17,647). These expenses are only the registration fees, but other costs are more than the registration fees, including the campaign expenses, Media, party registration fees, etc. According to CPA’s 2018 report of the 2017 Presidential Campaign Finance Report, more than $54 million was used in the 2017 Elections,” she added.
However, there is pride in the Somaliland people that their elections are democratic and better than the rest of Africa.