Somaliland votes next week. Its biggest challenges come after the election

Somiland’s three contenders in the presidential debate. Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi “Irro”, Musa Bihi Abdi, and Faysal Ali Warabe (left to right).

On Nov. 13, Somalilanders will vote for a new president. The campaign kicked off in dramatic fashion in October with Somaliland’s first-ever presidential debate shown live on national television, and large campaign rallies.

Somaliland has a long history of elections and executive turnover

A former British protectorate, Somaliland enjoyed five days of sovereign independence before uniting with Somalia in 1960. Following a brutal civil war, Somaliland dissolved its union with Somalia in 1991 and continues to exist as an unrecognized de facto state.

With 4 million people and a territory of 68,000 square miles, Somaliland impresses outside observers with its sustained process of electoral democracy and a hybrid blend of traditional and modern state institutions. Somaliland’s stability stands in contrast to the insecurity and poor governance in neighboring Somalia.

And unlike Somalia’s uneven transition record, Somaliland has seen peaceful leadership transitions for decades. The first president, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur (1991-1993), accepted defeat in an indirect election in 1993.

President Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal (1993-2002) then led Somaliland for nearly a decade.

Vice President Dahir Riyale Kahin (2002-2010) ascended to the presidency after Egal’s death and remained in office after winning an election in 2003.

Riyale accepted defeat and peacefully transferred power in 2010 to Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” in accordance with Somaliland’s constitution. Silanyo opted not to seek reelection in 2017, and there are three contenders in the current election.

To be sure, democracy depends on more than regular executive turnover. Recent presidential elections have seen extensive delays. There have been no parliamentary elections since 2005, and journalists and independent media experience arrest and harassment.

International election observers found widespread multiple voting during 2012 local council elections but accepted those elections as “largely free and credible” — though they were not fully free and fair.

There have been a series of electoral delays

Somaliland was supposed to hold joint presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. Severe drought and several political controversies led to multiple postponements. Droughts then forced pastoralists in the country to migrate, which meant that the March 2017 target election date would not be possible after delays in voter registration.

Scholars now raise questions that Somaliland’s attempt to blend traditional and modern governance may be a “crippled hybrid” in which neither institution functions well. If lower house parliamentary elections are held in 2019, parliamentarians will have served nine years beyond their constitutionally mandated five-year terms of office.

Despite these and other challenges, there are reasons for optimism. With comparatively little international assistance, Somaliland has survived two livestock export bans that decimated its leading industry, the sudden and unexpected death in office of President Egal in 2002 and various electoral crises.

A new president with a fresh electoral mandate offers the prospects of renewed electoral progress, necessary institutional reforms and incremental improvements in the daily lives of its citizens. If all goes to plan, Somaliland’s fifth president in 26 years will be inaugurated Dec. 13 — and assume responsibility for Somaliland’s continued peace and security.

Scott Pegg is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and is serving as an international election observer for Somaliland’s presidential elections.

Michael Walls is senior lecturer in the Development Planning Unit at University College London and is coordinating the international election observer mission for Somaliland’s presidential elections.