- The breakaway republic of Somaliland, which will hold presidential elections in April next year, to be followed by local elections, will start voter registration in October, according to a presidential decree. Somalilanders thus hope the country's democratic image abroad will prevail, but trouble is looming.
Somaliland's President Dahir Rayale Kahin has issued a directive for implementing the voter registration of all Somalilanders eligible to participate in the upcoming presidential and local assembly elections, according to reports by the local newspaper 'Qaran News'.
A press release issued by President Rayale's press office said voter registration was to commence on 14 October this year. This, according to the constitution, would be in time to organise the presidential polls, "to take place not later than 6 April 2009," according to an agreement negotiated between Mr Rayale's ruling UDUB party and the opposition UCID and Kulmiye parties in June.
Somaliland - a former British protectorate that united with ex-Italian Somalia in 1960 - unilaterally declared its renewed independence from Somalia in 1991, and has since developed into a stable and peaceful democracy.
Mr Rayale came to power after the death of founding President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal in 2002, being appointed by the council of elders. He however won the country's first, and so far only, multi-party presidential elections in April 2003 by a very slim majority. In September 2005, the first successful parliamentary elections were held. Both polls were seen as free and fair by international election observers.
Doubts on President Rayale's democratic intentions however emerged this year. As his presidential term came to an end on 15 May, Mr Rayale had his term extended by the Somaliland council of elders "because preparations for new polls were not according to time schedules." The decision caused loud protests among opposition parties, threatening they would treat Mr Riyale's presidency as "illegal".
An agreement between the ruling UDUB party and the opposition was however reached in June, approving an extension of President Rayale's term by one year and slating new elections for April 2009. The deal was hailed as a great victory for Somaliland's democratic path and its tradition for finding peaceful solutions to conflicts.
Nevertheless, the conflict level in the still unrecognised state has remained high, also after the June agreement. Only this week, 43 opposition MPs threatened to impeach President Rayale over a deal the government struck with the Saudi company al Jabberi, effectively giving it an export monopoly over livestock exports from Somaliland; the country's main foreign currency earner. MPs hold this is in breech with the constitution that defines economic policies "based on the principles of free market."
Also in the two eastern provinces of Sool and Sanaag, stability is again threatened and both voter registration and the polls could be difficult to pull through. Sool and Sanaag formed part of British Somaliland, but clan linkages here are closer to Somalia's north-eastern autonomous Puntland province, which in 2002 occupied the two provinces. The 2003 and 2005 polls could therefore not be held in Sool and Sanaag.
Somaliland troops managed to recapture most of Sool and Sanaag last year and were mostly welcome by clan elders in the region. It was therefore hoped that Somaliland elections for the first time could be held in Sool and Sanaag. However, clan elders since then have disagreed to whether Puntland or Somaliland authorities should be invited to control the region. Earlier this month, Sanaag elders urged both parties to withdraw to allow for a decision being made.
Meanwhile, however, Puntland has increased its activities in Sool and Sanaag, with reported clashes in the town of Las Qorey. It is believed that Puntland authorities will put great prestige in preventing any Somaliland elections being held in the two provinces it claims.
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