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Somaliland: Electoral Hiccups

Unlike every other breakaway state in the world Somaliland is more functional than the territory it wants to decouple from. The fact that Somalia is the country it wants shot of makes its case even more compelling because today it is impossible to find a better example of a failed state.

Somaliland's argument for recognition rests on two pillars: peace and democracy, but both are more fragile than they seem.

Sporadic fighting with its federalist eastern neighbor Puntland, which wants to stay part of Somalia but have a greater degree of freedom, kills soldiers and uproots civilians from time to time.

And in October last year the peace was violently shattered when coordinated suicide bombings here in Hargeisa ripped through the President's office, Ethiopia's trade mission and the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) headquarters. Human rights group have criticized the ensuing security clampdown.

But the most pressing worry is for Somaliland's nascent democracy. Delayed Presidential elections are now due in September, more than a year late, but the pre-election process has been shambolic.

The seven-strong National Election Commission is widely viewed as incompetent, largely for its disastrous handling of the country's first-ever voter registration exercise. "The voter register was supposed to prevent fraud," said one exasperated civil society activist, "but the registration itself was fraudulent!"

Double and triple registration resulted in a register so bloated as to be un-useable: in the last Parliamentary election 675,000 people voted, four years on and the NEC has registered a frankly unbelievable 1.3-million throwing the prospect of free and fair elections into doubt.

There are, however, a couple of positive signs. The first is Somalilanders commitment to peace which has become a national characteristic that even a faulty election may not disrupt.

The second is the willingness of politicians to accept results in good grace: last time around the main opposition consented to a defeat by only 80 votes; recently the incumbent President, Dahir Rayale Kahin, told me: "I will run and whether I succeed or not I will accept the result."

But if there are either dubious elections or further delays Somaliland's hopes of – and argument for – international recognition will have suffered a major setback as will its reputation as an oasis of stability in a badly run region.