Somaliland is going through considerable political turmoil. The government and opposition disagree over the sequencing of two forthcoming high-stakes elections, and both sides are digging in. International partners should push the two sides to reach consensus, while standing by to mediate if talks fail.
Electoral dispute risks turning into wider crisis as opposition vows to no longer recognise govt after 13 Nov.
Postponement of presidential poll increased tensions between political elites. After electoral commission late Sept announced it could not organise presidential election on scheduled date of 13 Nov and requested nine-month delay, parliament’s Upper House 1 Oct extended President Bihi’s term by two years and its own term by five. Leaders of opposition parties UCID and Waddani – who want presidential vote before selection of new parties – next day said they would no longer recognise Bihi as president when his mandate ends on 13 Nov; also said circumstances under which Upper House has authority to extend both terms were not met, and requested explanation as to why extensions go beyond technical delay outlined by electoral commission. UCID leader Feysal Ali Warabe also 2 Oct said Bihi would be responsible for “any violence or instability” that may occur. Garhajis clan – one of Somaliland’s largest – 27 Oct called for “inclusive and consensus-based agreement” between political parties before 13 Nov; warned that “no election will take place in territories inhabited by Garhajis clan” if no deal is reached.
Somaliland took an important step toward stable democracy with parliamentary and local council polls on 31 May. To keep moving in this direction, authorities and the opposition should build consensus on how to run future voting and how to make the government more inclusive.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell welcomes Dr. Mohamed Farah Hersi to discuss Somaliland’s evolving role in the Horn of Africa as it works to legitimise itself on the global stage following an unexpected outcome in a recent parliamentary election.
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.
Somalia and Somaliland have been at odds since the latter’s 1991 declaration of independence, which the former rejects. The dispute has cooled after heating up in 2018, but lingering tensions could threaten regional stability. To restart dialogue, the two sides should meet for technical talks.
A dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the contested areas of Sool and Sanaag risks escalating into open war. The UN, supported by states with influence on the two sides, should renew diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and press both to enter negotiations.
Somaliland’s clan-based democracy has consolidated a state-like authority, kept the peace and attracted donors. But the territory now needs to reform its political bodies, judicial institutions and international engagements to protect itself from continued fragility in neighbouring Somalia – which rejects Somaliland’s independence claims – and civil war in nearby Yemen.
The stalled electoral process has plunged Somaliland into a serious political crisis that presents yet another risk of destabilisation for the region. If its hard-won political stability collapses under the strain of brinkmanship and intransigence, clan leaders might remobilise militias, in effect ending its dream of independence.
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