Thursday, 1 July 2010

Peaceful region of Somaliland votes for president

HARGEISA, Somalia; Voters in Somaliland queued for hours and thronged polling stations Saturday for the second presidential election held in the self-declared republic, in a peaceful exercise in governance not seen for decades in the country's anarchic south.
Voters and candidates said they hope this vote will award Somaliland the international recognition it seeks. The three men vying to become president of the region have all promised to seek international recognition for the autonomous region.
"The election is very crucial for the future of Somaliland," said President Dahir Riyale Kahin as he voted Saturday morning. "It a bridge to a long-awaited international recognition."
Saturday's election also coincides with the 50-year anniversary of independence for Somaliland, a former British protectorate. The province was only independent for five days before joining Somalia on July 1, 1960.
Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been a haven of relative peace in northwest Somalia as southern Somalia has degenerated into chaos and anarchy. The region has its own security and police forces, justice system and currency, but is not recognized by any other state.
All three candidates, who include Kahin, Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo and Feysal Ali Warabe, have also promised to maintain the region's security and economic development.
Warabe said that while he believes his party deserves to win, he will accept the results given by the national election board.
"I am now ready endorse if any one of us wins by one vote," he said.
Residents also said they hope the vote will win more respect for the region and maintain the peace that has eluded southern Somalia since the 1991 ouster of longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre by warlords.
Business student Sarah Jama said she was concerned about unemployment levels, but that she based her vote on a desire for peace.
"Inasmuch as we need change, we must maintain the peace we enjoy," she said. "We are very scared of what has happened in countries around us, like southern Somalia."
Omar Ali, 32, an electrician and father of seven, traveled from Libya to vote for the first time.
"I think the election is very beautiful and I support the Somaliland elections so that they can be peaceful and fair," he said.
He added, "I believe at the rate things are going in Somaliland, the future will be bright for my children, where they will be more interested in their country and not go abroad."
Officials said polls were orderly on Saturday, but that the masses of voters kept polls open a few minutes after closing time. Results are expected in a week.
"The process has ended peacefully, and the polling stations were supposed to close at 7 p.m. (1600GMT), but they extended for fifteen more minutes because people were in queues and we had serve them," said Issa Ahmed Hamari, chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Somaliland.
The vote was closely watched by dozens of international observers.
One observer, Steve Kibble of the British organization Progressio, said the campaign "has generally been peaceful and good-natured."
The candidates agreed to hold campaign rallies on different days in order to avoid bouts of violence between supporters. More than 1.6 million people have registered to vote at more than 1,000 polling sites.
Kahin, leader of the Democratic United National party, or Udub, was elected president in 2003 with 42.08 percent of ballots cast in an election won by 80 votes.
Somaliland's second presidential election has been frequently delayed. It was first scheduled for 2008, and then for 2009.
Associated Press Writer Samson Haileyesus contributed to this report.