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Somaliland - Politics

Somaliland has had a number of peaceful transitions of power through elections for both parliament and presidency. Somaliland's government includes a parliament and functioning civil court system. Only in Somaliland, under "President" Mohammed Egal, was there a functioning legal system, based on the 1962 Penal Code. The current system replaced Islamic law and included a supreme court. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of a ruling clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs.

Although not on the scale of the south, Somaliland also experienced inter-clan killings and destruction as the newly "independent" administration tried to establish itself - first under Abdirahman Tur, and then under former Prime Minister Muhammad Ibrahim Egal, who was elected to office by clan elders in Boroma in 1993, and again in 1997.

Somaliland has held successful presidential elections in 2003 and 2010 including a parliamentary election in 2005. With much fanfare and excitement on the streets of Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced the result of the presidential elections held peacefully on June 26, 2010. The lead opposition party, Kulmiye (meaning bringing together”) won by receiving almost 50% of over 538,000 votes cast while the ruling party UDUB, (meaning “Pillar”) won approximately 33% and the second opposition party, UCID (the Justice and Welfare party) received approximately 17%.

Kulmiye party leader and veteran politician Ahmed Silanyo was declared the new President of Somaliland with the other two parties gracefully conceding defeat. More popularly known as ‘Silanyo’ Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud's Kulmiye party won the 2010 elections, defeating incumbent Dahir Rayale Kahin of the United Democratic People’s Party (UDUB). That election, combined with Silanyo’s acceptance of defeat to Rayale by a mere 80 votes during the 2003 contest, solidified Somaliland’s democratic credentials, and contributed to its tradition of peaceful transfers of power.

The current president, Riyale Kahin, issued a statement prior to the NEC announcement, restating that he will respect the outcome of the elections and distancing himself from those raising complaints from within his party. The leaderships of both opposition parties congratulated the president’s brave statement and thanked him for taking this step to preserve the unity and reputation of the Somaliland people. This marked only the third peaceful democratic transition in the greater Horn of Africa (previous instances were Sudan in 1986 and Kenya in 2002).

In Somaliland, as preparations continued in 2015 to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, political tension between the government and the opposition intensified over delays in approving the National Electoral Commission of Somaliland and passing the voter/civic registration act. On 15 November 2015, parliamentarians from the ruling Kulmiye Party of Somaliland tabled an impeachment motion against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi “Irro”, who is from the Wadani opposition party. This action resulted in security incidents, including the temporary detention of several parliamentarians and violent protests in other towns in Somaliland. The immediate crisis subsided, and on 29 November parliament endorsed the National Electoral Commission, following which the Commissioners took the oath of office on 7 December.

Opposition parties formed an alliance on 4 March to oppose the bid by President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” to extend his term of office beyond June 2015. Tension with the government heightened after the National Electoral Commission announced on 9 March the indefinite postponement of presidential and parliamentary elections. The ruling Kulmiye party expressed its readiness to consult the opposition on the way forward, and urged Parliament to approve important legislation on the political participation of women and minorities. The Commission subsequently further announced that the elections should be possible in June 2016.

In June 2015 the two major Somaliland opposition parties (UCID and Wadani parties) accused the ruling party “Kulmiye” government of violating thedeal of holding election on 27 July 2015 and unilaterally trying to postpone Somaliland elections, without a joint consultations with people and other concern parties.

In Somaliland, the upper legislative chamber, the House of Elders (Guurti) announced on 11 May 2015 a 22-month term extension of the term of office of President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud “Silanyo”, thereby delaying the elections that had been scheduled to be held in June 2016 until March 2017. Following protests and consultations, the authorities and the opposition parties agreed on 27 May to reschedule the elections for mid-December 2016. However, tensions remained high, as the Guurti failed to revise its decision in line with the agreement. On 18 August, in response to a request from the “Somaliland” authorities for a legal decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Guurti’s decision, and set the election timeline for March 2017.

The 2017 election was touted to be the first incident-free polls to be held in the Horn of Africa in many years. After more than two years of delays, voters will finally have the chance to make their voices heard. Given that President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud ‘Silanyo’ is not standing for re-election, the contest will result in fresh leadership regardless of the outcome. The election, Somaliland’s third presidential poll and sixth election overall, saw Muse Bihi Abdi of the Kulmiye party defeat rival candidates from the Waddani and UCID parties. With 55% of the vote, Muse succeeded the retiring incumbent, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud ‘Silanyo’, also of Kulmiye.

Somaliland swore in its fifth president, Muse Bihi Abdi, on 13 December 2017. There was excitement and optimism on social media as citizens relished the peaceful transition of power and wished their new president a fruitful five year term. Abdi, a retired pilot was declared winner of the tightly contested 13 November 2017 polls, having polled 55.% of the votes cast. On the presidential election in 2017, although experiencing some degree of post-election disturbances, an international Election Observation Mission reported that they were “pleased to have observed an election which has seen Somaliland show its democratic spirit” and congratulated the National Electoral Commission on a “well-run poll.”

In March 2017, the National Election Commission [NEC] established 13 November 2017 as the new presidential poll date. At the same time, the timeline for elections for the Lower House was set at 29 April 2019, and for the Guurti [upper house] 28 April 2020. The 2017 election featured a number of firsts, including a unique use of innovative iris-scan technology as the biometric base for a voter register; the first-ever televised presidential debate in Somaliland's history; and the first participation in a Somaliland election of some in the easternmost regions. It was imperative that Somaliland call on its admirable tradition of conflict resolution, to address and solve current problems, and move on to the next stage in its democratic journey, namely holding its much-delayed parliamentary poll in 2019 as scheduled.

Somaliland’s history has engendered a unique political system incorporating traditional leadership aspects with modern constructs. Parliament consists of two houses – a Lower House (House of Representatives) of 82 elected parliamentarians, and an Upper House or Guurti of 82 clan elders, originally appointed during clan conferences in 1993 and 1997. The Guurti institutionalises traditional governance dynamics and the clan system in the Somaliland arena, giving rise to its hybrid nature. The Guurti has played an important role in Somaliland’s history, settling disputes on the basis of consensus and serving as a neutral arbiter.

International observers were deeply disappointed by the Guurti’s March, 2017 decision to delay further Somaliland’s electoral cycle, unilaterally extending the government’s term beyond even the dates requested by government. The further postponement of the presidential election to November 2017 and the parliamentary and local elections to 2019 was given without justification or a plan for addressing the obstacles to holding the long-delayed parliamentary polls. These delays undermine democratic progress in Somaliland and have caused serious concern among international partners about the government’s credibility and respect for democratic norms. Parliamentarians will have been in office 14 years without an election under this plan, more than twice the constitutional limit.

The lower house of parliament and the presidency had both exceeded their stipulated mandates. New combined elections were originally planned for 2015, then 2016, before being shifted to March 2017. The parliamentary poll was then separated from the presidential vote, with a new date of 13 November 2017 set for the presidential.

With the inauguration of Muse Bihi Abdi on 13 December 2017, Somaliland’s oft-delayed presidential election process officially ended. The Kulmiye party retained power, but the president changed for the third time in 14 years – impressive for an unrecognised state. The main opposition party, Waddani, refused to work with the National Electoral Commission (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.

Elections for the Lower House of Parliament and the local councils, were meant for this March 2019 but postponed to December 2019. The Upper House of Parliament, the Guurti, comprising selected clan elders, announced the postponement on 21 January 2019 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 had now served 14 years.

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