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|Somalilanders Battle For Independence|
Hargeisa, Somaliland , October 3, 2005 (Mail & Guardian) – After 19 years without a working government, Somalia would walk any award for longevity on a knife-edge. Equally, Somaliland , its northern neighbor on the Horn of Africa, must be a contender for the patience prize.
This country, which rose from the ruins of dictator Siyad Barre’s genocidal attempt to destroy it remains unrecognized by the international community.
This week, Somaliland put the final piece to its democratization puzzle by holding parliamentary elections.
Undeterred by the discovery of an al-Qaeda cell in the capital, Hargeisa, a week before polling day, voters turned out to cast their ballots for 241 candidates contesting 82 seats.
Percentage polls will not be published. The country has not had a census since breaking its union with Somalia in 1991, let alone a voters’ roll.
But this has not prevented it from holding a successful constitutional referendum and presidential and local elections in the past four years.
“We are holding these elections for the good of the people. If they help us get international recognition, it would be a bonus,” says President Dahir Rayale Kahin.
He told international observers who have come from four continents to witness this process that he would talk to his chaotic neighbors in Somalia , when “they are elected by their own people like I have been.
“But then it will only be about establishing good neighborly relations like we would with Ethiopia and Djibouti . It could never be about reuniting.”
Somaliland independence is a unifying feature of the three parties in the election: Kahin’s Union of Democrats; the largest opposition, KULMIYE; and the Justice and Welfare Party. KULMIYE leader Ahmed Sillanyo lost the presidential election two years ago by a mere 80 votes.
“The result wasn’t fair but I accepted it for the good of our young democracy,” he says. “This time around, I’m confident we’ll have a healthy majority in the first elected Parliament. It will provide healthy checks and balances to have a Parliament opposed to the president. We have tried to persuade Somalilanders of this.” Sillanyo accuses Kahin of bloating his government with cronies. “For a small, poor country, we should never have more than 40 ministers and deputy ministers as we do.”
As ever, the cut and thrust of Somaliland ’s political battles takes second place to the more lethal battle for governance in Somalia where the government is split between the capital, Mogadishu and Jowhar.