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Vote Rekindles Somaliland's Hopes
Hargeysa, Somaliland, September 27, 2005 (AFP/Al-Jazeera) – Street vendors in Somalia's breakaway region of Somaliland have reported huge sales of the narcotic leaf qat and newspapers, as campaigning wraps up for legislative polls this week amid hopes for long-denied international recognition.
Amid a flurry of political activity, including a surprise government announcement of terrorism arrests and allegations of electoral fraud, shop owners in the capital of the self-styled republic say business is booming.
And with Hargeisa awash in colorful campaign posters in the run-up to Thursday's elections, many are bemoaning the end of the month-long campaign and the profit windfall brought by politicians eager to win support from voters.
"This is the time to share wealth with politicians who ignore us if there are no elections," said businessman Ismail Hasan Muhammad with a giggle.
Although Somaliland , which takes its name from the former British protectorate and unilaterally declared independence from the rest of anarchic Somalia in 1991, is an island of relative stability in the lawless nation, it remains unrecognized by the outside world.
This, many Somalilanders believe, has kept away large-scale international aid and development projects, and contributed to the region's crushing poverty.
But the campaign for Somaliland 's third multi-party elections since political pluralism was introduced in 2000 has brought with it a brief economic respite and rekindled hopes that the polls will encourage outside recognition.
"Since the campaign began, the qat business has been the driving engine of party activists," said Ahmad Yassin, a wholesaler importer of the leaves from neighboring Ethiopia .
"Our trade has been marvelous," he said, noting that the stimulant has been in huge demand from politicians wishing to win over potential supporters.
"Unfortunately, our business will most certainly drop after the election," he lamented. "That is not good for our livelihood."
Election season has also brought with it an unquenchable thirst for information from Somaliland's estimated 3.5 million population that has newspaper vendors crowing over a boom in sales, but wary of what will follow.
"I was selling about 50 newspapers a day, but now I am selling 150 a day." said teenage vendor Muhammad Abd al-Rahaman. "The election has been very good for my life.
"I wish the government would postpone the elections for an extra month," the 16-year-old said, adding he had made the equivalent of $66 in profit, the most he has ever seen.
"I wish all years could be election years."
The election pits the ruling Union of Democrats (UDUB) party against the opposition Hisbiga Kulmiye (Solidarity Party) and Justice and Welfare Party (UCID), who are united in their quest for recognition, but differ widely on the means to achieve that.