Somaliland Holds Credible Presidential Election
As stated previously, the June 26 election went smoothly; however, Election Day is only one part of a larger and longer four part process, which includes the pre-election environment, pre-election administration, Election Day voting, and vote counting and post-election adjudication resulting in acceptance of legitimate results. IRI cautions the political parties and Somalilanders to wait for the final results to be released before conclusions are made regarding the election process. Peace has been the hallmark of Somaliland for the past 20 years, a point IRI was reminded of by citizens, civil society, election officials and the presidential candidates prior to the election.
In casting their ballots during Saturday’s presidential election, Somalilanders showed their enthusiasm and support for democracy and their homeland. The pre-election environment and administration were generally conducive to a credible process. In taking their campaigns to every region of Somaliland, the candidates believed that they were able to get their message across to the population and in the independent media. IRI did, however, hear complaints regarding the use by the ruling party of state resources, such as state television and government vehicles.
Somaliland’s National Election Commission (NEC) deserves much credit. The establishment of a voter registry and cards in particular were a step forward for the election process. The set-up and mechanics for Election Day were also handled well. Polling site officials carried out their work in a conscientious manner. For the first-time ever worldwide, IRI witnessed a commendable, systematic effort to involve trained university students as election officials. IRI also was impressed by the presence of observers representing all three political parties at an overwhelming number of balloting sites. This is one of the most useful methods to deter fraud.
However, this well-run election was not without some difficulties. A significant number of polling sites did not post the needed alphabetical division of voter’s last names, which led to early confusion on where to cast votes. IRI also witnessed sporadic irregularities including what were believed to be instances of voting by those younger than 16, the legal age of voting. By the end of balloting, these problems had either been solved or had not reached a level sufficient to call into question the credibility of the process. As the vote count began, Somalilanders clearly felt a great pride for exercising their democratic rights, and much hope for the future. IRI hopes that as the counting and tabulation process continues the political parties, candidates and citizens are as respectful of the results as they were in 2003.
This election was originally to be held in 2008 and was repeatedly delayed. In any democracy, old or new, such delays undermine the political process and elicit distrust among the citizens. This was unfortunate since Somaliland held a constitutional referendum in 2001, and three elections (local, presidential and parliamentary) from 2002-2005; all were deemed acceptable. The last presidential election in 2003 was decided by a mere 80 votes and the defeated candidates accepted the result, and 2005 parliamentary elections resulted in an opposition-dominated legislature. Many other countries and politicians can learn from Somaliland’s example, but only if elections continue to be held regularly and in a timely fashion.
IRI’s 19-member delegation was co-led by IRI board members Richard S. Williamson, former United Nations Ambassador and Presidential Special Envoy for Sudan; and Constance Berry Newman, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Africa. The delegation also included representatives from the Czech Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Norway, Sierra Leone, Serbia, Spain and the United States. The group observed voting and ballot counting at more than 70 polling stations in four cities – Berbera, Borama, Burao and Hargeisa.
IRI also partnered with the local nongovernmental organization Social Research and Development Institute to train and deploy six domestic observer teams that gave IRI a broader coverage in areas where international observers could not monitor. The domestic teams monitored voting and ballot counting at more than 70 polling stations in Ainaba, Baligubadle, Las Anod, Lug-haya, Odweine, Salaxley and Zeila.
Other IRI delegates were:
- Rune Aale-Hansen, Chief Information Officer of Norway’s Høyre Party;
- The Honorable Sophia Abdi Noor, member of the Kenyan Parliament;
- The Honorable Aminu Bello Masari, former Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives;
- Ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares Satrústegui, former Spanish Ambassador to South Africa and former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs;
- Dr. J. Peter Pham, Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and non‐resident Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies;
- Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn, former U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti;
- Petr Sokol, Secretary of the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party Group at the European Parliament; and
Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chairwoman of Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission.
Delegates traveled to Nairobi, Kenya where they were briefed by representatives from the U.S. Embassy and USAID. After arriving in Hargeisa, delegates were briefed by representatives of the NEC, European Commission, presidential candidates, human rights groups and civil society organizations. They also were briefed on the rights and responsibilities of international observers and Somaliland election law.
Delegates then deployed throughout Somaliland where they met with local election officials, political party representatives and civil society organizations. On Election Day, delegates monitored polling stations and identified and evaluated the strengths and weaknesses in the election system, including campaign regulations, the balloting process, vote tabulation and reporting.
Since 2002, IRI has worked with civil society groups, political parties and the national parliament in Somaliland. Through funding from USAID, IRI provided support to Somaliland’s political parties, parliament, marginalized groups and was able to conduct this election observation mission.