Observers welcome progress towards setting Somaliland poll date

By staff writers
February 9, 2010

As part of the UK-based team coordinating election observers for the much-delayed presidential elections in the internationally unrecognised Republic of Somaliland, the Catholic agency Progressio has welcomed recent progress made in resolving the Somaliland voter registration process – a key sticking point – and is calling on all parties to push ahead and set a date for the poll.

Progressio, the Development Planning Unit at University College London (UCL) and Somaliland Focus UK say in a joint statement: “Since September 2009 we have seen a marked improvement in the situation, when all three of Somaliland’s political parties signed a six-point agreement by which the government guaranteed that a further extension of office would not be sought and that the disputed and delayed process of agreeing a voter register would be recommenced. The agreement was subsequently approved by Somaliland’s upper house, the Guurti (House of Elders).”

The statement continues: “This development was quickly followed by improvements in the relationship and renewed understanding between the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the donors who are providing funding and technology for the voter registration process and the election itself. We are heartened by this progress, and look forward to completion of necessary processes (namely, agreement on a voter register) to allow an actual date to be announced. Indeed, as election observers, it is impossible for us to proceed with making plans for our mission until a date is set.”

It concludes: “Despite lack of international recognition of its claim to official statehood, Somaliland – “Africa’s best-kept secret” – has been characterised by many as a beacon of democratisation in Africa in contrast to the chaos in neighbouring Somalia. However, the delaying of the presidential poll is causing severe damage to Somaliland’s reputation. We therefore urge all stakeholders to do their utmost to maintain the positive momentum to ensure the poll is carried out, with as little delay as possible. This must include genuine commitment from all players and a realistic approach to the time needed to ensure a smooth and proper political process.”

The UK-based team, along with FOPAG (Forum for Peace and Governance) in Somaliland, was invited to lead the election observation mission by the Somaliland National Electoral Commission in January 2009. The team has been tasked with coordinating international election observers from four continents and preparing a report on the conduct of the campaign and poll following the vote. Support for the mission is being provided by the UK government.

Somaliland Focus (UK) Chair, Michael Walls, said: “While Somaliland’s progress since 1991 has been remarkable, the next election marks a significant new step in establishing a legitimate system of national government. We applaud recent successes and look forward keenly to agreement on a voter register and the announcement of a viable election date with genuine cross-party support in the near future. Without those steps, the genuine achievements of the past 19 years will be dealt a profound blow”.

Somaliland's Presidential elections have been repeatedly delayed. The poll has previously been scheduled for March/April 2008, December 2008, March 2009 and September 2009.

The country is situated in Somalia's northwest. It declared unilateral independence from the failed Somali state in 1991 and has since been a haven of relative peace whilst violence and instability has characterised Somalia, its capital Mogadishu and more recently, the Gulf of Aden.

Progressio's involvement in the mission follows its leadership of the international monitoring team for Somaliland's inaugural parliamentary elections in 2005, judged by observers as "basically free and fair".

The agency, formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations, has been working with local communities in Somaliland since 1995, by placing skilled workers with local organisations specialising in advocating for the rights of women, youth and people with disabilities as well as supporting basic health service provision and people living with HIV and AIDS. Progressio also actively supports progress towards democratisation and stabilising the country.

The Development Planning Unit (DPU) is an international centre specialising in academic teaching, practical training, research and consultancy in the field of urban and regional development, planning, and management. DPU is part of University College London (UCL).

Somaliland Focus (UK) was established in London in 2005 with the aim of helping to raise awareness amongst decision-makers in the UK and elsewhere about the territory of Somaliland and to support Somaliland's progress towards state-building and social and economic development.

To read the full text of the statement from the three NGOs, go to:

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