Somaliland: Lonely Democracy


Contesting Parties LogosBy: Robleh M. Lafcanbe

Somalilandsun — Colourful flags and campaign posters are waved around by young and old, candidates are giving enthusiastic speeches in front of energized crowds and a sense of joy and patriotism lingers through the air. It’s election time in a little-known East-African Republic.

The Republic of Somaliland is holding its second municipal election and sixth democratic election since breaking off and declaring independence from the war-ravaged nation of Somalia in 1991.

In 2002, then-President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal opened the registration of new political organizations. The constitution of Somaliland states that the country is to have only three political parties. In order to achieve party status, new political organizations compete in the next scheduled municipal election. The top three parties/organizations who gain the most votes end up as the official parties of the nation.

Six political organizations competed in 2002 and only three made the cut. The other three political organizations disbanded and made alliances with the party that was most ideologically equivalent to theirs.

The three parties, UDUB, KULMIYE and UCID, went on to compete in the 2003 presidential election and the 2005 parliamentary election.

The most recent election, the second presidential election in 2010, saw Incumbent president Dahir Riyale Kahin of the UDUB party handing over power to KULMIYE party leader Ahmed Silanyo after losing by a wide margin. It was a milestone that rarely happens in East Africa – let alone Africa as a whole. Dictators and Presidents in Africa are known to cling on to power, even after losing elections. Citizens were ecstatic, members of the Diaspora remained hopeful and election observers from sixteen different countries praised the successful occasion.

This time around, there are 5 political organizations and two political parties competing in the 2012 municipal elections. UDUB was recently disqualified from competing after failing to meet the requirements for the upcoming election. UCID and the ruling party KULMIYE achieved party status in 2002. Although they are recognized as official parties, they need to survive the cut like they did back in 2002 in order to hang on to their official status. UMMADA, DALSAN, HAQSOOR, WADANI and RAYS are the five new political organizations that are also competing for party status.

The elections were originally scheduled for earlier this year, but due to lack of funding and support the National Election Commission put off the election until late in the year. After receiving funding from the EU and other international donors, the election was called for November 28th and preparation started to take place. The campaign started on October 29th and ends on November 25th. Each party/organization has been assigned one day of the week to campaign – a strategic move by the NEC to combat conflict with supporters of different parties/organizations.

Somaliland has come a considerably long way, and its cinderella story is uplifting. So what exactly is the world waiting for?

When will the recognition come? When will they stop being seen as just an autonomous region within Somalia?

Down south in Somalia, terrorist group Al-Shabaab and local warlords battle the government daily for control, government corruption is high and Pirates are still rampant off the coast. Although one could argue that the recent Presidential Election in Somalia was a sign of progress, there were still many downsides to it. The New Parliament of Somalia – which elected the President – was handpicked by a technical committee. Seats were distributed by favoritism. There were even reports of seats being sold ranging anywhere from $40k to $100k.

Take a look at other East African countries. Eritrea is a one-party state. Ethiopia has been dominated by the EPRDF since 1991. Djibouti has been controlled by one family since 1977. President Hassan Aptidon held the seat from 1977-1999 and then transferred power to his nephew Ismail Omar Guelleh who has held it ever since. Kenya has had its share of election violence and election fraud, most recently in 2007 and Uganda has been under the tight grip of President Yoweri Museveni since 1986.

The unrecognized nation that could is still determined to make its mark on the international stage. Somaliland’s municipal elections will take place on the 28th of November and will be observed by over 600 domestic and 50 international observers. The democracy in Somaliland will continue – even if the nation and its achievements continue to go unnoticed.