Autonomous state of Somaliland held its presidential elections with thousands of people coming out to vote despite threats from Islamist rebels, al-Shabab. Many voters saw the election as a fresh opportunity to demonstrate their aspiring but unrecognised state’s democratic credentials.
Holding a nationalistic vision of a unified Somalia, Al-Shabab was expected to disrupt the electoral process in the sovereignty seeking region. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and is not recognized by Somalia nor the international community as an independent state.
Reports claimed that al-Shabab had warned voters to stay at home, leading many to suspect that they [al-Shabab] could try to interrupt the elections. Should this election go well, observers believe the case for an independent Somaliland, a largely peaceful region with an effective administration, would be strengthened.
The Islamist extremists group had issued an audio message last week describing democratic elections as the devil’s principles. AL-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, a native of Somaliland, warned the breakaway state’s population that they would “face the consequences” if they cast their ballot.
And although people of Somaliland expressed some fears International monitors say people defied warnings from the Islamist Al Shabaab group by casting ballots in a presidential poll they hope will bolster their aspirations for a separate, internationally recognized state. Dozens of international observers were in the region to watch the vote and reported no violence or fraud.
Security had been beefed up ahead of the vote: “All our country’s forces are locking the borders. Movements and transport inside Somaliland are also forbidden except for those authorised by the national election commission (NEC),” Police Chief Mohamed Saqadi Dubad was quoted.
Somalia’s western-backed President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who congratulated the people of Somaliland for their peaceful election in a radio broadcast but urged them to “keep the unity of Somalia in mind”, a move that highlights a similar vision with al-Shabab which believes that an independent Somaliland undermines a unified Somalia.