[![Somaliland Victory Monument by Somaliland247 @flickr][2]][2] Somaliland Victory Monument by Somaliland247 @flickr

Today Somaliland is holding its Presidential elections.  To understand the significance of this event, one must understand the road that it has taken the Somalilanders to get to this point.  This election has been delayed for over two years.  This entry contains a small background on that time.

The Presidential elections were originally scheduled for August, 2008.  In April 2008, the Council of Elders – Somaliland’s upper house of Parliament (the Guurti) – extended the term of the President until April 6, 2009.  In April 2008, the NEC released a press statement indicating that the elections would take place as originally scheduled and that the Guurti did not have the authority to unilaterally delay the timeline for the elections as the original timeline had been agreed to by all political parties and the House of Representatives.

As a result of mounting tensions, the President agreed to meet with the leaders of the two opposition parties to negotiate a solution. The negotiations among the parties continued for approximately six weeks, when the three political parties and the NEC held a press conference and ceremony to sign the agreement which appeared to have formally resolved the election dispute. The main points of the agreement were that the presidential election would be held before the President’s term expires on April 6, 2009. The NEC originally scheduled the election to be held on March 29, 2009.

On September 23, 2008, NEC announced that it was accepting applications for temporary workers to administer the voter registration program.  Potential applicants were to attend screening interviews at NEC’s office in Hargeisa, Somaliland.  Several hundred applicants gathered outside the office and an adjacent hotel.  The gathering began to grow agitated upon learning that only several dozen positions would be available.  The police attempted to disperse an increasingly tense situation by firing several gunshots into the air.  Two days later NEC continued the screening process without further incident.

On August 24-26, 2008, a dispute arose within the main opposition party, Kulmiye, over the rules of procedure for electing the party’s candidates for President during the Kulmiye party conference.  Before the conference began several candidates had emerged to oppose the current party chairman and previous Kulmiye Presidential candidate, Ahmed “Silanyo” Mahmoud Mohamed.   These challengers withdrew prior to the party conference in apparent recognition of their slim chances to defeat the incumbent party chairman.  Kulmiye reconciled its differences sometime in the middle of October.

The National Election Commission (NEC) conducted a voter awareness-raising drive during the first week of October, 2008 prior to beginning the actual registration process.  In the midst of this, there was a dispute within the NEC, with four members voting to oust the Chairman of the NEC.  It was never clear what the dispute was centered on, but a settlement was worked out soon thereafter to retain the present NEC Chairman in a meeting between the NEC and the three political parties.

The voter registration process began in the northern port city of Berbera on October 14 and concluded there on October 21.  After Berbera, the voter registration teams moved to Borama and Gabiley for registration of the regions west of Hargeisa.  Hargeisa region, the largest region, was originally scheduled to register voters starting October 28 through to November 3, 2009.

On October 29, 2008, three explosions occurred in Hargeisa.  All three were the result of vehicle suicide bombs.  A group named al-Shabaab claimed credit for the bombings.  Al-Shabaab is a group that claims to have linkages with al Qaeda and has been waging an insurgency in South-Central Somalia for many years.  Although they were known to have operatives in Somaliland throughout their history, this was the first time they acted in such a large-scale and sophisticated fashion.  The Somaliland government quickly and efficiently rooted out many of the remnants of al-Shabaab’s network within Somaliland and brought into custody individuals who have some level of suspected involvement.  More importantly perhaps, the Somaliland citizenry unequivocally rejected al-Shabaab, and many moderate Islamic Clerics spoke out against the attacks and expressed solidarity with the victims and with the Somaliland government.

The Somaliland national security apparatus continued to maintain a high state of alert against information relating to ongoing threats.  Specifically, Somaliland officials have reportedly received and responded to numerous pieces of information at various times regarding imminent threats of attack or infiltrations by members of al-Shabaab’s network.  While no such attacks transpired after the initial wave of bombs, throughout this time there was a heightened threat environment and the Somaliland government appeared to be taking all available measures within its capacity to pursue these threats.

Due to the Hargeisa bombings there were a few delays in the registration process for the regions that were originally scheduled to follow Hargeisa region.  The first delay was due to the actual bombings.  The second delay was for staff training as the expatriates supporting the registration effort with information technology services were recalled by their companies and the local Somaliland staff had to be trained.  As a result, voter registration began on December 1 in Hargeisa.  Following the Hargeisa region, the NEC moved towards the eastern regions where it continued with the voter registration process.  The registration teams first went to Burao, the capital of the Togdheer region, followed shortly thereafter in the Sanaag region on December 30, 2008, and then concluded in Sool region.

Somaliland government officials describe the voter registration process as an overwhelming success.  Over 1 million people were registered, according to Somaliland officials, with many Somalilanders presently residing in Bossasso, Puntland reportedly even returning across the border just to register.  Previous population estimates of Somaliland were about 3.5 million, with roughly 30% of that population, or 1.3 million, estimated to be of eligible voting age.  Therefore, the figure of over 1 million voters registered seems close to legitimate. The NEC announced on January 12, 2009 that it had successfully completed the first phase of the voter registration process.

As expected, the leaders of both the UDUB and UCID parties were nominated as the Presidential candidate for their respective party in the spring of 2009.  The ruling party, UDUB, nominated the incumbent President as its party’s nominee for the upcoming Presidential election.  The weaker of the two opposition parties, UCID, nominated its chairman, Faisal Ali Warabe, to be its party’s nominee for the upcoming Presidential election.

In February, NEC replaced its chairman.  The preceding chairman resigned on February 2, 2009 from his chairmanship but remained a commissioner.  The new chairman, Mr. Jama Mohamed, entered his position soon thereafter.  On February 23, 2009 NEC announced that it would not be able to hold the elections on the prior agreed date of March 29, 2009.  NEC stated that because of the high number of multiple registrants it would not be able to complete the verification of its database in time.  NEC used computerized software alongside digitized fingerprints and facial photos to identify persons who had registered multiple times.  The complicated computer algorithm that was used to “purge” the database of multiple registrants required outside consultants and extensive computing power – both of which took some time for NEC to acquire.  Additionally, there was a political dispute over the analysis of multiple registrants.

At the time when NEC announced that it would not be able to make the March 29 election date, it had yet to complete the identification of multiple registrants.  Following NEC’s announcement that it would be unable to meet the March 29 election date, Kulmiye announced that it would not acknowledge the legitimacy of the current government beyond its allotted mandate – which was set to expire on April 6, 2009.  Kulmiye announced that it would only accept a unified caretaker regime from April 6 until the election was complete.  UDUB, the ruling party, refused to accept any government of unification.

Both parties finally compromised by sending the decision to the Guurti.  After an intense political battle, the Guurti announced on March 28, 2009 that it was extending the President’s mandate another six months, which in turn, extended UDUB’s ability to legally rule Somaliland until October 6, 2009.  Soon thereafter, in the first week of April, NEC announced that it would hold the election on September 27, 2009.

During the first week of April, Kulmiye announced that despite its earlier call to submit the extension of the Presidential mandate to the Guurti, the eventual decision by the Guurti was unconstitutional.  Kulmiye continued to claim that it would not accept UDUB’s legality to rule Somaliland after April 6, 2009.  The party made many claims during this period that it would resort to violence which never came to fruition.  On May 27, 2009 all three of the political parties finally accepted the decision of the mediation committee that the extension of the incumbent’s term by the Guurti, was constitutionally valid and that the election could be held on September 27, 2009.  The leaders of the three parties signed a memorandum of agreement enshrining their current desire to hold the election on that date.  One of the major reasons for the numerous delays was the continued technical difficulties in analyzing the database of registered voters and purging those who registered more than once.  Sometime around the 10th of June, this issue was thought finalized.

Running parallel to the political haggling over the Presidential elections was another battle over control of the Guurti.  On two occasions, first in the middle of February and second at the end of March, 2009 the Guurti brought forward motions to oust the current chairman of the Guurti, Suliman Mahmoud Adan.  Both challenges to the chairman were attributed to his perceived political allegiance to the chairman of Kulmiye, Silanyo.  On both occasions the opposition to the chairman was not able to acquire the quorum of two-thirds of the Guurti constitutionally required to unseat a sitting chairman.

The NEC had its own internal problems during the summer of 2009.  Two of the Commissioners were accused of corruption sometime around June 12 and were sacked by the NEC Chairman about a week later.  Since both of the sacked Commissioners had been appointed by the House of Representatives, that House was vested with the task of replacing them.  Rather than replacing the Commissioners at this late date in the election process, the House decided sometime around the 23rd of June to send the Commissioners back to NEC, despite the corruption allegation.

The political gamesmanship between the Government and opposition parties, the Parliament, the National Election Commission (NEC), and the international donors escalated towards the end of July, again jeopardizing the prospects for the election on the scheduled date.

The implementing international NGO, InterPeace, supporting the election process in Somaliland was determined to resolve the technical difficulties associated with the voter registration database and released the final voter registration list to the NEC by July 27.  On July 28 the international donors, providing support to both InterPeace and the presidential elections, announced that the voter list had been released to the NEC on July 27 as agreed, and alleged that the NEC was holding up the process by not releasing the list to the political parties and the general public.  Later that same day, the NEC responded with an announcement that the voter list submitted to them had not resolved the ongoing technical difficulties and was therefore invalid.  The NEC announced further that the election would be conducted on the scheduled date, but without utilizing the voter registration list.  The donors responded with another press announcement that they would withdraw support for the election if the voter registration list was discarded by the NEC.  Meanwhile, the chairmen of both houses of parliament, along with the opposition parties, backed the international donors and announced that the election must only be conducted using the voter registration list.  However, the NEC and Somaliland Government held firm that the election would be conducted without the voter registration list, even going so far as to deport some of InterPeace’s international staff.

Throughout August of 2009, the political parties and the National Election Commission (NEC) remained at loggerheads over the decision about whether to hold the election without the voter registration database.  Toward the end of the month, the President decided that the election would take place without the voter list.  This decision inflamed the opposition parties and operated as a catalyst for many relationships to fracture.  The first fissure was between the three parties.  August 3 was the date established by NEC for the political parties to begin campaigning.  On that day, the two opposition parties announced that they would boycott the election if the President continued to maintain his intransigence regarding the voter list.  Meanwhile, the ruling party held rallies for their candidate.  The following day the opposition parties announced, via their MPs, that they would seek the impeachment of the incumbent President.  They cited the Presidential intent to hold the election without the voter list and other unconstitutional actions by the President as their reason.

The drama between the political parties and the President was acted out on two stages.  The first stage was between the Presidential candidates, who participated in numerous mediation committee meetings to resolve their differences regarding whether or not the voter registration list was to be used.  The second stage was between the President and opposition MPs.  On August 15, the Parliament passed a decree allowing the elections to continue as planned without using the list, despite arguments that doing so would be contrary to the Voter Registration Act.  The back and forth between the opposition and ruling parties culminated in at the end of August with an assassination attempt on the Speaker of the House of Representatives by one of the MPs. The Speaker escaped into a prepositioned rally of anti-government supporters.  Following this, pro-government MPs sought the removal of the Speaker.  Meanwhile, anti-government MPs continued to seek the impeachment of the President.

In addition to the tensions within the Parliament, numerous other tensions were operating within Somaliland over the course of August.  The President and NEC found themselves in a battle with many external actors over the timing and conduct of the election.  On August 20, the Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs arrived in Hargeisa in an effort to mediate the differences among the parties on these two issues.  He proved to be unsuccessful in his efforts.  After the Minister departed, a delegation from the African Union arrived in Hargeisa with a similar mission.  Finally, on August 29th, a British diplomat from the UK’s embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia arrived.  All of these missions were unsuccessful and there was no agreement or clarity with regards to the timing and conduct of the Presidential election at the time.

In early September, the National Election Commission (NEC) announced that they would be unable to conduct the elections as scheduled on September 27, 2009.  They did not announce a new timetable for when they would be able to conduct the elections.   Toward the end of September, 2009, the President’s mandate was expiring and all of the issues surrounding the election remain unsolved.  On the morning of the day the election was supposed to take place the Guurti finally was able to broker a deal.  The Guurti extended the President’s term indefinitely, but required him to hold the elections in good faith as soon as feasible.  The pro-government supporters agreed to drop their insistence on removing the Speaker of the House, while the anti-government supporters agreed to drop their impeachment motion against the President.

During the first week of October, the seven Commissioners from the National Election Commission (NEC) resigned under domestic and international pressure.  The second and third weeks of October saw seven new Commissioners nominated by the various stakeholders in the process.  Although there was a significant amount of political discourse on the selection of the new NEC, the prior animosity between the various political factions was largely absent from the process.  On October 21, the President forwarded the list of the new Commissioners to the House of Representatives.  On October 24, the House approved the list.  They were sworn in the following week.  The turnover from the old Commissioners to the new Commissioners took place during the first weeks of November.  The new NEC began their work and meetings during November.  They spent a significant portion of the month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia meeting with donors and participating in training seminars.  NEC returned to Hargeisa from their meetings abroad during the latter part of December.

The NEC came under pressure throughout the early part of 2010 to fix a date for the elections.  The new NEC shied away from media attention and focused itself in the practicalities of conducting elections.  The legal mandate of the 2007 Voter Registration Act placed the NEC in difficult position, as it was required to use the database, but the database it inherited from the previous NEC was largely unusable.  Subsequently, Interpeace sent technicians to try to recover the data that is either lost or in the wrong form.  This effort was largely successful, and the NEC was able to publish the voter list for the political parties in late March without incident.

The NEC spent most of February planning polling station locations and resolving the final technical issues with the voter registration database.  Around the 25th of February information was leaked to the press that the NEC would not be ready to hold the presidential election until the end of the year and that they would distribute new voter registration cards in each region to voters who had not registered twice.  The news was not met with much tension in Hargeisa.  However, later in the quarter different information circulated that the election would take place in June or July of 2010.

The Guurti experienced more turmoil during the early part of 2010.  The Chairman of the House left Somaliland in December and went to the United Kingdom for routine medical treatment.  While the Chairman was away, motions were brought before the House to change the by-laws to reduce the current super-majority required to oust a sitting chairman to a simple majority.  Many members of the House felt that this was a first step toward deposing the current Chairman, and members quickly began taking sides on the issue.  When the Chairman returned on January 12, 2010, he immediately began working to resolve the conflict.  In late January, the Deputy Chairman, who was widely seen as the heir apparent to the Chairman’s post if he was ousted, announced his resignation.  This again caused polarization in the House, with numerous back and forth accusations and rebuttals from both camps[[LB4]][2] [[CSK5]][3] .  After more political mediation, the Deputy Chairman retracted his resignation and was reinstated by the plenary chamber of the House.  Both camps agreed to keep the bylaws as they were.

[2]: /Users/Casey/Documents/CSK, ESQ/PILPG/Somaliland/PILPG Somaliland Final Report CK Draft 06.14.10.doc#_msocom_4 [3]: /Users/Casey/Documents/CSK, ESQ/PILPG/Somaliland/PILPG Somaliland Final Report CK Draft 06.14.10.doc#_msocom_5

Early in April, 2010 the Chairman of the Ghanaian National Election Commission visited and assisted the Somaliland National Election Commission (NEC) in the various preparations necessary for the election.  On April 29 the NEC held a press conference where they confirmed that they would be ready to hold the election in June, 2010.  NEC has prepared all of the polling stations, ordered and accepted the delivery of the ballot boxes, and has delivered the approved and finalized voter registration cards to the electorate.  In May, 2010 the NEC announced that the Presidential elections would take place on June 26, 2010.  The campaigns for the elections began without significant tension on June 5, 2010 and have continued without any significant disruption up to the time of this report.

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