Somaliland has had six national elections since 2002. This is a relatively impressive democratic record but while regular polls are admirable, they haven’t been without problems. An example is the current wrangling over delayed elections for the Lower House of Parliament and the local councils, meant for this month but postponed to December.
The Upper House of Parliament, the Guurti, comprising selected clan elders, announced the postponement on 21 January following failed negotiations between Somaliland’s three official political parties. Despite conducting multiple presidential polls, the parliamentary elections are long overdue. The first and only election of Somaliland’s Lower House was in 2005. Since then, at least five delays have pushed back the process. This means those elected in 2005 for five-year terms have now served 14 years, without a check on their performance.
Two interrelated issues are at play. First is a technical one – the National Electoral Commission (NEC) says it requires 10 months to prepare for the elections. Not only are 82 parliamentary positions up for grabs, but also those of the local councils. So there will be many smaller and localised contests, rather than one big one as in 2017.
Somaliland MPs elected in 2005 for a five-year term have now served for 14 years The second issue is political. The main opposition party, Waddani, has refused to work with the NEC, contributing to the delays. Waddani contested the 2017 presidential poll results but withdrew its complaints after episodes of violence. While agreeing to move on, Waddani chairperson and presidential candidate Abdirahman Irro said he still disputed the results, but rescinded his complaints for the greater good of Somaliland’s stability.
A mission of 60 international observers managed by the University College of London’s Development Planning Unit noted that irregularities (such as underage voting) occurred in 2017, but weren’t enough to affect the result. Rather some of the technical preparations in the lead-up to the poll, such as using an iris scanner for the first time to register voters, were applauded.
While the 2017 process had some flaws, they weren’t enough to overturn the election results. Yet civil society representatives told the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Hargeisa in February that this election proved divisive, and deepened political competition among major Isaaq sub-clans in Somaliland.