Hargeisa, Somaliland – After a seven-year wait, Somaliland will go to the polls to elect a new leader. Here are five things you need to know:

Why is this election important?

Somalilanders will finally be choosing their new president on November 13 after inadequate funding, political disagreements and drought caused the polls to be delayed for several years.

The presidential election – the third since Somalia’s northern region decided to separate from from the rest of the country in 1991 – was originally scheduled at the same time as that for the lower house of parliament, but the two have now, controversially, been separated, with the latter planned for April 2019.

While past efforts to register its electorate were riddled with inconsistencies, this latest attempt – a first in Africa with its use of iris scan biometric technology – has gone smoothly, and all parties have expressed confidence in the process.

“The change in leadership after a divisive administration increases the stakes, especially given the delay for those waiting for their chance to take power”

MOHAMED FARAH, DIRECTOR OF THE ACADEMY FOR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT IN SOMALILAND

President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”, whose government has been accused of corruption and nepotism, is stepping down – so the stakes in this election are high.

“The change in leadership after a divisive administration increases the stakes, especially given the delay for those waiting for their chance to take power” Mohamed Farah, director of the Academy for Peace and Development in Somaliland, told Al Jazeera.Somaliland will go to the polls after seven years to elect a new leader [Megan Iacobini de Fazio]What will a new administration have to deal with?

There is the issue of two recent deals with the UAE, which would see it take over and develop the Berbera port, as well as building a military base in Somaliland. Both developments have significant financial and geopolitical implications for Somaliland, and have the potential to shape its future.

“Somaliland will have to play a critical role in the economic development and political stability of the region, … and there is a feeling that such large developments [could] be an issue for a new administration,” Farah explains.

Somaliland’s political system incorporates both traditional elements and modern political structures, but despite instituting a three party political system to avoid clan based politics, clan still remains a central factor in Somaliland’s politics.

All three candidates are from the same the clan, but shifting allegiances between sub-clans have been an important aspect in the run up to the elections.

Who is standing?

Three candidates are vying to replace Silanyo, the current head of state.

Muse Bihi Abdi, who is standing with Kulmiye, the ruling party, was a commanding officer for the Somali National Movement (SNM) rebel group during the struggle to overthrow President Siad Barre in the 1980s. He also served as interior minister in the 1990s, and worked on reintegrating and rehabilitating ex-combatants during the crucial post war years.

Despite some achievements, such as taking steps to improve stability in the unrecognised country’s eastern regions, the Kulmiye party has been accused of widespread corruption and clanism, and of conducting state business without adequate transparency. For example, Silanyo’s government presided over the controversial deals with the UAE, all the details of which have not been disclosed.An estimated 70 percent of Somaliland’s population are under 30 [Megan Iacobini de Fazio/Al Jazeera]


Bihi’s main challenger, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi “Irro”, served as speaker of the lower house of parliament for 12 years until he resigned to take part in the presidential campaign.

Irro’s party, Waddani, has been the most vocal in its criticism of the port and military base deal, and has vowed to review the deals – and possibly withdraw from them – if elected.

Projected to finish third in the polls is long-time leader of the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID), Faysal Ali Warabe, who has been opposition leader since the early 2000s. Unlike the other candidates, Warabe is running on an anti-clan agenda, and advocates for a welfare state in Somaliland.

What does the international community think?

An International Election Observation Mission (EOM), funded by the British Government, has been invited to oversee the elections by Somaliland’s own National Electoral Commission (NEC). The EOM includes a team of 60 observers from 27 countries.

“[We’re] particularly hopeful that the implementation of the voter registration system will address issues that have marred previous elections,” the EOM said in a statement.

“It also is a milestone in the sense that, if it goes well, it will mark a maturing of Somaliland’s electoral democracy”

MICHAEL WALLS, OBSERVER AND RESEARCHER

According to Michael Walls, chief observer with the EOM and an academic who has researched Somaliland’s development, “this election is significant because it’s the first time an incumbent is not standing, and because there is a real choice between candidates”.

“It also is a milestone in the sense that, if it goes well, it will mark a maturing of Somaliland’s electoral democracy,” Walls told Al Jazeera. “It shows that Somaliland is capable of keeping the electoral process going, and that’s significant. There are many people, including from the international community, paying attention.”

When are results expected?

The vote will take place on November 13, but results are not expected until November 17th.

All parties have claimed confidence in the NEC, and the transition is expected to be peaceful.

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EARLIER RELATED COPY

High spirits as Somaliland prepares to vote

Young supporters of Waddani (Somaliland National Party) – many under 16 and therefore not yet old enough to vote – gather in Freedom Park in Somaliland’s capital city, Hargeisa. An estimated 70 percent of the population are under 30. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Young supporters of Waddani (Somaliland National Party) – many under 16 and therefore not yet old enough to vote – gather in Freedom Park in Somaliland’s capital city, Hargeisa. An estimated 70 percent of the population are under 30. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

High spirits and a celebratory atmosphere have characterised the political campaign rallies in the run-up to a long-awaited presidential election in the self-declared state of Somaliland, which is due to take place on November 13.

This is Somaliland’s first presidential election since 2010, and the stakes are high. Three candidates – Faysal Ali Warabe of UCID party, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of Waddani party and Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party – are vying to replace Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”, the current head of state.

The contest was delayed for more than two years due to voter registration issues, lack of funding and a devastating drought.

The process will be witnessed by international election observers funded by the UK government, as well as a team of over 600 domestic observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS.

It is hoped that a hi-tech voter registration system using iris-recognition software will guard against electoral fraud.

In the past, there have been allegations that competing clans encouraged their members to register multiple times to increase their political influence. 

Since Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following a bloody civil war, the region has held five largely peaceful elections and one constitutional referendum, forging a political system that combines traditional leadership with modern representative democracy.

The fact that it is not officially recognised by any other country means that Somaliland’s political situation is complex, and the Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu still lays claim to its territory.

A boy on his way to join an UCID (Justice and Welfare Party) rally in Hargeisa. Young people in Somaliland have shown a strong interest in politics. 'The youth have energy, and for them politics is new,' says Abdirashid Aliahi Farah, a 26-year-old domestic election observer. 'Some are seeing their first election. In order to get their votes, all the parties say they have youth programmes and that they care about the young.' [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A boy on his way to join an UCID (Justice and Welfare Party) rally in Hargeisa.
Young people in Somaliland have shown a strong interest in politics. ‘The youth have energy, and for them politics is new,’ says Abdirashid Aliahi Farah, a 26-year-old domestic election observer. ‘Some are seeing their first election. In order to get their votes, all the parties say they have youth programmes and that they care about the young.’ KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Supporters of Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development Party), the current ruling party, drive through the streets of Hargeisa displaying party colours and blaring party-promoting music on their way to a rally. Each day only one designated party can campaign, a rule created to avoid potential conflict and security issues. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Supporters of Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development Party), the current ruling party, drive through the streets of Hargeisa displaying party colours and blaring party-promoting music on their way to a rally. Each day only one designated party can campaign, a rule created to avoid potential conflict and security issues. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
UCID presidential candidate, Faysal Ali Warabe, takes a photo with a child before addressing supporters at a rally in Hargeisa. The Somaliland constitution, approved via popular referendum in 2001, allows for only three parties to exist, a ruling designed to separate party politics from clan affiliations. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
UCID presidential candidate, Faysal Ali Warabe, takes a photo with a child before addressing supporters at a rally in Hargeisa. The Somaliland constitution, approved via popular referendum in 2001, allows for only three parties to exist, a ruling designed to separate party politics from clan affiliations. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
When asked why she supports UCID, Fardus, 48, replies: 'This is the party without tribalism. It stands for religion and justice.' Women turned out in large numbers to the city’s campaign rallies. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
When asked why she supports UCID, Fardus, 48, replies: ‘This is the party without tribalism. It stands for religion and justice.’ Women turned out in large numbers to the city’s campaign rallies. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A Kulmiye party supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A Kulmiye party supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A woman speaks during a training session for female party campaigners in Guleid Hotel. 'We want people to vote for us without nepotism, and to campaign about positive change,' says Xakun Cali Daahir. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A woman speaks during a training session for female party campaigners in Guleid Hotel. ‘We want people to vote for us without nepotism, and to campaign about positive change,’ says Xakun Cali Daahir. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A boy chants ‘bedaluu’, an elaboration of the word ‘bedal’ meaning ‘change’, at a Waddani party political rally in Hargeisa. Word play, phrases and songs capture the popular imagination in a culture with a strong oral tradition. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A boy chants ‘bedaluu’, an elaboration of the word ‘bedal’ meaning ‘change’, at a Waddani party political rally in Hargeisa. Word play, phrases and songs capture the popular imagination in a culture with a strong oral tradition. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Ahmed Iman Warsame, leader of one of the groups representing so-called ‘occupational castes’ – leatherworkers, metalworkers and haircutters collectively known as the Gabooye – joins a Waddani rally on horseback. Waddani have made the support of minority groups a focus of their campaign.  [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Ahmed Iman Warsame, leader of one of the groups representing so-called ‘occupational castes’ – leatherworkers, metalworkers and haircutters collectively known as the Gabooye – joins a Waddani rally on horseback. Waddani have made the support of minority groups a focus of their campaign. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Waddani presidential candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, known as ‘Irro’ waits to address the party faithful at the last rally before polling day. This is the first presidential election in which the Waddani party has participated. Whoever wins the presidency will have to manage a fragile economy that is heavily dependent on diaspora contributions.[Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Waddani presidential candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, known as ‘Irro’ waits to address the party faithful at the last rally before polling day. This is the first presidential election in which the Waddani party has participated. Whoever wins the presidency will have to manage a fragile economy that is heavily dependent on diaspora contributions.KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
The face of presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party, on women’s shawls at a rally in Hargeisa. Bihi is a former soldier who fought for the Somali National Movement against the Mogadishu government of Siyaad Barre. 'He has been a war veteran for the country and its people, therefore he can make the country safe in terms of security,' says Farah, a 45 year old Kulmiye supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
The face of presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party, on women’s shawls at a rally in Hargeisa. Bihi is a former soldier who fought for the Somali National Movement against the Mogadishu government of Siyaad Barre. ‘He has been a war veteran for the country and its people, therefore he can make the country safe in terms of security,’ says Farah, a 45 year old Kulmiye supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
A woman holds up a campaign leaflet in the form of a polling card at a Kulmiye party rally in Hargeisa. Polling cards will include the party symbols to cater for voters who are illiterate. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
A woman holds up a campaign leaflet in the form of a polling card at a Kulmiye party rally in Hargeisa. Polling cards will include the party symbols to cater for voters who are illiterate. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Domestic election observers during a training session in Hargeisa. They will be part of a team of over 600 observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS. 'Because we are an emerging country, the world can see our democracy, so it’s important to show our process is fair and transparent,' says 21-year-old observer and student, Isir Guleid Hussein. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
part of a team of over 600 observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS. ‘Because we are an emerging country, the world can see our democracy, so it’s important to show our process is fair and transparent,’ says 21-year-old observer and student, Isir Guleid Hussein. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Domestic election observers during a training session in Hargeisa. They will be 
Traditional Somali dancers perform at a Waddani rally in Freedom Park, Hargeisa. Religious leaders expressed concern to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) about what they consider to be ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ during the campaigns, with the playing of music and men and women dancing together. The NEC however, let the rallies go ahead, arguing that the right to campaign is written into the constitution. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Traditional Somali dancers perform at a Waddani rally in Freedom Park, Hargeisa. Religious leaders expressed concern to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) about what they consider to be ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ during the campaigns, with the playing of music and men and women dancing together. The NEC however, let the rallies go ahead, arguing that the right to campaign is written into the constitution. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA
Women chanting and singing joyfully as they wait for their leader’s address at an UCID rally in Hargeisa. [Kate Stanworth/Saferworld/Al Jazeera]
Women chanting and singing joyfully as they wait for their leader’s address at an UCID rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEER
by Kate Stanworth

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