By Fred Oluoch
The International Election Observation mission chief observer in Somaliland Dr. Michael Walls spoke to The EastAfrican’s Fred Oluoch about the recent election and the issues of international recognition.
From what you have observed, how has the election gone, from voter registration and voter security to polling and tallying?
The process of counting and tallying is not complete yet, so I can’t offer an assessment at this stage. However, we were happy to be able to observe the elections in all regions without experiencing insecurity or violence.
There was some concern when the Parliament in Puntland declared its intention to obstruct the election in eastern areas, but in effect that disruption affected only a small number of polling stations in Badhan town. We applaud Somaliland for holding a peaceful election.
Is there a sense of free campaigns and that the incumbent is not being used to influence the election outcome?
There is almost always some degree of incumbency advantage, but we were impressed with the relative evenness of media coverage.
We are aware of complaints from different parties about intimidation of their supporters and of misuse of resources, early campaigning etc, and some of those complaints were upheld by the Electoral Monitoring Committee.
That there are many international observers flies in the face of the non-recognition of Somaliland; does this give an endorsement of a viable separate state?
In my opinion, Somaliland has achieved a great deal in consolidating peace after a brutal war, and in establishing a system of electoral democracy.
Of course, I am not in a position to determine Somaliland’s sovereign status internationally, but there is no doubt that many governments are keenly aware of Somaliland’s success in those regards and have been watching this election closely.
There was a larger number of foreign diplomats and officials present in Somaliland for this election than I have seen before.
With the British government financing the international observers, does it mean that, individual countries are silently recognizing Somaliland?
No, at this stage, no country recognizes Somaliland although there is a growing de facto acceptance of the importance of supporting the peace in Somaliland and that leads to some creative approaches to engagement.
British financial support for election observation represents just such a pragmatic accommodation.
Do you think free elections in Somaliland in a region that is fraught with claims of election rigging and violence, would put the country in good stead with the international community?
Yes — again, as per the above answers. There has been significant international interest in this election, and that arises from a growing awareness of Somaliland’s peace and electoral democracy.
Somaliland’s stability and electoral democracy are impressive and should be supported. It is heartening that international actors increasingly acknowledge that.
What does a free and democratic election in Somaliland portend for Somalia?
This is difficult to answer, as Somaliland has effectively established a very different path from Somalia in terms of politics. I suspect that the lessons that can be learned by one from the other.