Chaos feared as Somaliland cancels elections

Riyale, the president
Riyale, the president

Somaliland is facing the ugly prospect of election -related violence akin to that which occurred in Kenya after the 2007 general election.

A self-declared independent state, Somaliland was set to hold its much-awaited presidential election on September 27.

Last week, the election commission indefinitely postponed the elections, citing the deteriorating political environment. The president later forcibly closed the breakaway republic’s parliament after it began debating impeachment charges against him.

Silanyo, the opposition leader
Silanyo, the opposition leader

The campaigns were marked by escalating tensions between the government and opposition parties, some of which were pushing for an election boycott. The presidential election has previously been postponed twice.

A group of researchers from Oxford University who recently carried out a comparative analysis between Somaliland and Kenya, also warn that Somaliland could explode into violence should the standoff between the government and the opposition continue.

Should violence erupt in Somaliland, then the entire former Somali republic will be engulfed in violence, given the continued war in Mogadishu between the Transitional Federal Government and Al-Shabaab.

Though not internationally recognised, Somaliland — which unilaterally declared its independence in 1991 following the collapse of Siad Bare’s government — held successful multiparty presidential elections in 2003 and parliamentary elections in 2005.

The presidential election was postponed in 2007 and again in 2008 due to what officials called technical problems, including inadequate voter registration. It was then set to be held before April 6, this year, following a civil registration process.

But Dr Nicole Stremlau, the co-ordinator of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University, told The EastAfrican that their comparative analysis of the Kenyan situation and that of Somaliland indicates the latter is likely to explode in violence.

The fear of conflict springs from the fact that the tenure of Dahir Riyale Kahin has been extended several times, while the voter registration process is yet to be completed to the satisfaction of all parties, raising fear of election malpractices.

In 2003, a mere 80 votes separated President Riyale from his challenger, Ahmed Silanyo, leader of the opposition Kulmiye Party. Just like in the Kenyan scenario, the final vote count in 2003 was delayed for three days, during which some senior Kulmiye leaders rallied supporters to unilaterally declare an opposition victory.

Mr Silanyo conceded defeat following intense mediation, and after the Supreme Court ruled in Riyale’s favour, stating that he did not want to plunge Somaliland into a civil war. Anxiety that the elections would not be held after all, given the threat by the opposition to boycott, only served to raise tensions even before the polls were cancelled.

Constitutionally, Riyale’s term in office was set to end on May 15, 2008, but come April of the same year, parliament passed a motion extending the president’s term because of lack of preparedness for elections. The decision prompted a series of protests.

The most recent agreement endorsed the resolution of the Somaliland House of Elders to delay the presidential election for one year, until September 27, and to extend the incumbent’s term in office until October 29. This further provoked frustration and anger in the opposition.

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