High spirits as Somaliland prepares to vote

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Young supporters of Waddani (Somaliland National Party) – many under 16 and therefore not yet old enough to vote – gather in Freedom Park in Somaliland’s capital city, Hargeisa. An estimated 70 percent of the population are under 30. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Election fever grips Somaliland ahead of a tense leadership challenge.

by Kate Stanworth

High spirits and a celebratory atmosphere have characterised the political campaign rallies in the run-up to a long-awaited presidential election in the self-declared state of Somaliland, which is due to take place on November 13.

This is Somaliland’s first presidential election since 2010, and the stakes are high. Three candidates – Faysal Ali Warabe of UCID party, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of Waddani party and Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party – are vying to replace Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”, the current head of state.

The contest was delayed for more than two years due to voter registration issues, lack of funding and a devastating drought.

The process will be witnessed by international election observers funded by the UK government, as well as a team of over 600 domestic observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS.

It is hoped that a hi-tech voter registration system using iris-recognition software will guard against electoral fraud.

In the past, there have been allegations that competing clans encouraged their members to register multiple times to increase their political influence. 

Since Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following a bloody civil war, the region has held five largely peaceful elections and one constitutional referendum, forging a political system that combines traditional leadership with modern representative democracy.

The fact that it is not officially recognised by any other country means that Somaliland’s political situation is complex, and the Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu still lays claim to its territory.

A boy on his way to join an UCID (Justice and Welfare Party) rally in Hargeisa. Young people in Somaliland have shown a strong interest in politics. 'The youth have energy, and for them politics is new,' says Abdirashid Aliahi Farah, a 26-year-old domestic election observer. 'Some are seeing their first election. In order to get their votes, all the parties say they have youth programmes and that they care about the young.' [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A boy on his way to join an UCID (Justice and Welfare Party) rally in Hargeisa. Young people in Somaliland have shown a strong interest in politics. ‘The youth have energy, and for them politics is new,’ says Abdirashid Aliahi Farah, a 26-year-old domestic election observer. ‘Some are seeing their first election. In order to get their votes, all the parties say they have youth programmes and that they care about the young.’ KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Supporters of Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development Party), the current ruling party, drive through the streets of Hargeisa displaying party colours and blaring party-promoting music on their way to a rally. Each day only one designated party can campaign, a rule created to avoid potential conflict and security issues. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Supporters of Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development Party), the current ruling party, drive through the streets of Hargeisa displaying party colours and blaring party-promoting music on their way to a rally. Each day only one designated party can campaign, a rule created to avoid potential conflict and security issues. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
UCID presidential candidate, Faysal Ali Warabe, takes a photo with a child before addressing supporters at a rally in Hargeisa. The Somaliland constitution, approved via popular referendum in 2001, allows for only three parties to exist, a ruling designed to separate party politics from clan affiliations. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
UCID presidential candidate, Faysal Ali Warabe, takes a photo with a child before addressing supporters at a rally in Hargeisa. The Somaliland constitution, approved via popular referendum in 2001, allows for only three parties to exist, a ruling designed to separate party politics from clan affiliations. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
When asked why she supports UCID, Fardus, 48, replies: 'This is the party without tribalism. It stands for religion and justice.' Women turned out in large numbers to the city’s campaign rallies. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
When asked why she supports UCID, Fardus, 48, replies: ‘This is the party without tribalism. It stands for religion and justice.’ Women turned out in large numbers to the city’s campaign rallies. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A Kulmiye party supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A Kulmiye party supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A woman speaks during a training session for female party campaigners in Guleid Hotel. 'We want people to vote for us without nepotism, and to campaign about positive change,' says Xakun Cali Daahir. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A woman speaks during a training session for female party campaigners in Guleid Hotel. ‘We want people to vote for us without nepotism, and to campaign about positive change,’ says Xakun Cali Daahir. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A boy chants ‘bedaluu’, an elaboration of the word ‘bedal’ meaning ‘change’, at a Waddani party political rally in Hargeisa. Word play, phrases and songs capture the popular imagination in a culture with a strong oral tradition. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A boy chants ‘bedaluu’, an elaboration of the word ‘bedal’ meaning ‘change’, at a Waddani party political rally in Hargeisa. Word play, phrases and songs capture the popular imagination in a culture with a strong oral tradition. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Ahmed Iman Warsame, leader of one of the groups representing so-called ‘occupational castes’ – leatherworkers, metalworkers and haircutters collectively known as the Gabooye – joins a Waddani rally on horseback. Waddani have made the support of minority groups a focus of their campaign. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Ahmed Iman Warsame, leader of one of the groups representing so-called ‘occupational castes’ – leatherworkers, metalworkers and haircutters collectively known as the Gabooye – joins a Waddani rally on horseback. Waddani have made the support of minority groups a focus of their campaign. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Waddani presidential candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, known as ‘Irro’ waits to address the party faithful at the last rally before polling day. This is the first presidential election in which the Waddani party has participated. Whoever wins the presidency will have to manage a fragile economy that is heavily dependent on diaspora contributions.[Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Waddani presidential candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, known as ‘Irro’ waits to address the party faithful at the last rally before polling day. This is the first presidential election in which the Waddani party has participated. Whoever wins the presidency will have to manage a fragile economy that is heavily dependent on diaspora contributions.KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
The face of presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party, on women’s shawls at a rally in Hargeisa. Bihi is a former soldier who fought for the Somali National Movement against the Mogadishu government of Siyaad Barre. 'He has been a war veteran for the country and its people, therefore he can make the country safe in terms of security,' says Farah, a 45 year old Kulmiye supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
The face of presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party, on women’s shawls at a rally in Hargeisa. Bihi is a former soldier who fought for the Somali National Movement against the Mogadishu government of Siyaad Barre. ‘He has been a war veteran for the country and its people, therefore he can make the country safe in terms of security,’ says Farah, a 45 year old Kulmiye supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A woman holds up a campaign leaflet in the form of a polling card at a Kulmiye party rally in Hargeisa. Polling cards will include the party symbols to cater for voters who are illiterate. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A woman holds up a campaign leaflet in the form of a polling card at a Kulmiye party rally in Hargeisa. Polling cards will include the party symbols to cater for voters who are illiterate. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Domestic election observers during a training session in Hargeisa. They will be part of a team of over 600 observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS. 'Because we are an emerging country, the world can see our democracy, so it’s important to show our process is fair and transparent,' says 21-year-old observer and student, Isir Guleid Hussein. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Domestic election observers during a training session in Hargeisa. They will be part of a team of over 600 observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS. ‘Because we are an emerging country, the world can see our democracy, so it’s important to show our process is fair and transparent,’ says 21-year-old observer and student, Isir Guleid Hussein. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Traditional Somali dancers perform at a Waddani rally in Freedom Park, Hargeisa. Religious leaders expressed concern to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) about what they consider to be ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ during the campaigns, with the playing of music and men and women dancing together. The NEC however, let the rallies go ahead, arguing that the right to campaign is written into the constitution. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Traditional Somali dancers perform at a Waddani rally in Freedom Park, Hargeisa. Religious leaders expressed concern to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) about what they consider to be ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ during the campaigns, with the playing of music and men and women dancing together. The NEC however, let the rallies go ahead, arguing that the right to campaign is written into the constitution. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Women chanting and singing joyfully as they wait for their leader’s address at an UCID rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Women chanting and singing joyfully as they wait for their leader’s address at an UCID rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

SOURCE:ALJAZEERA

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