Somaliland took an important step toward stable democracy with parliamentary and local council polls on 31 May. To keep moving in this direction, authorities and the opposition should build consensus on how to run future voting and how to make the government more inclusive.
What’s new? Somaliland’s opposition scored a surprise win in long overdue parliamentary and local elections on 31 May 2021. Despite years of delays, the vote went smoothly and was a milestone on Somaliland’s road to democratisation. A 3 August vote for the speaker of parliament was similarly straightforward.
Why does it matter? The 31 May vote revealed both the strength of Somaliland’s democratic culture and the limits of efforts to include under-represented constituencies in high-level politics. Women are now entirely absent from parliament and certain sub-clans won fewer seats, partly because of dismal turnout in parts of the east.
What should be done? Somaliland’s leaders should redouble efforts to include under-represented communities in governing bodies and work to address disaffection in eastern regions through dialogue. The ruling party should steer clear of heavy-handed tactics that marred the pre-electoral period, while watchdog institutions and civil society should publicise any such actions that still occur.
Somaliland’s parliamentary and local council elections represented rare good news in the troubled Horn of Africa. Smoothly run and fairly peaceful, the long-delayed 31 May polls handed a surprise loss to the ruling party, which swiftly accepted the results. While the vote was an undeniable success, there were nevertheless significant disappointments. Security forces harassed and detained some opposition candidates during the campaign. Not a single woman won a seat in parliament, contributing to the continued near absence of women from high-level Somaliland politics. Dismal voter turnout in eastern regions appeared to reflect disaffection with authorities in the capital, Hargeisa, while exacerbating the under-representation of eastern sub-clans in parliament.
As they look toward future elections, including the presidential race in 2022, the authorities should consider measures to boost participation of under-represented communities in government and forswear strong-arm tactics against the opposition. To reduce friction and delays, the government should engage now with the opposition to develop consensus rules for managing forthcoming elections. Overall, the successful 31 May election was an important step in Somaliland’s state-building and democratisation efforts. The authorities, civil society and key public institutions should strive to consolidate these gains and build broad political agreement on how to make continued progress toward stable, peaceful and inclusive democracy in Somaliland.