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Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 13:07 UK

Somaliland stability 'under threat'

An injured man at an opposition rally in Hargeisa, 12/09
Tensions boiled over last month when opposition activists fought with police

Somaliland has been hailed as a beacon of stability in the troubled Horn of Africa region since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991. But BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper reports that some experts now believe the self-declared republic is at crisis point.

Michael Walls - co-coordinator of the international election observer mission to Somaliland - has issued a report bemoaning the repeated postponement of the presidential election.

In his report for the Chatham House think-tank, he says that if the situation is not resolved, the territory will inevitably lose many of the gains it has made since breaking away from Somalia.

map

Somaliland's stability has surprised many people. Although no country has recognised its independent status, it has managed to avoid many of the problems encountered by its neighbours.

This is partly because it has developed a unique hybrid system of government.

A traditional house of elders or "guurti" is combined with other more modern institutions. There is a limited system of democracy, whereby only three political parties are allowed to exist.

This mixture of the modern and the traditional has been a largely effective way of governing. But recent developments put all this at risk.

"With international attention focused on piracy off the Puntland coast, the rise of militant Islam in southern Somalia, and the threat this is perceived to represent to international security and global terrorism, the potential for deterioration in Somaliland must surely be cause for concern," says Mr Walls.

Somaliland MPs brawling in parliament, Tuesday 8 September 2009
MPs brawled in parliament last month

The current tension in Somaliland centres on the postponement of the presidential election, which was due to have been held on 27 September.

This is not the first time the vote has been delayed - it has been postponed at least three times since last year.

President Dahir Riyale Kahin's term in office - which was meant to run out in May 2008 - has been extended several times.

It is currently due to expire on 29 October, and it is unclear what will happen after that.

Fist-fight

This uncertainty has led to increased concern about Somaliland in the international community, and a flare-up of political animosity within the territory.

There is no crisis in Somaliland
Adam Musse Jibril
Somaliland representative in the UK

In September, for example, there was a fist-fight in parliament during discussions about a possible impeachment of the president. One MP is even reported to have drawn a gun, although no shots were fired.

Mr Walls says one of the main reasons for the repeated postponement of the polls is what he has described as the incompetence of the national electoral commission.

"Fears are widespread that the electoral commissioners will find themselves incapable of providing the organisation required for a successful presidential election," he says.

"Even if an election date was agreed, the commission wouldn't be able to organise the vote."

Another problem has been the inability of Somaliland's three political parties to agree on a voters' register.

Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin
Opposition MPs want the president impeached over the poll disputes

The previous presidential election in April 2003 was held without a register. But as President Riyale won by the narrowest of margins - just 80 votes - it was widely agreed that a more robust system was required to help avoid future problems.

The compilation of a voters' register has been fraught with difficulty.

"The process has been marred by astonishingly widespread fraud and mismanagement", says Mr Walls.

More than half of those who registered did so without providing a readable fingerprint. Many people were registered without being photographed - instead, they brought their own pictures, which were held up in front of a camera and photographed.

There has been no widespread population count in Somaliland since the 1970s, and there is great sensitivity about the compilation of a new voters' register because it is likely to provide a different picture of the region, altering the balance of power between the clans.

This could have serious political implications, altering voting patterns and possibly the outcome of elections.

Animosity remains

The government of Somaliland insists there is no serious cause for concern about the political situation.

"There is no crisis in Somaliland. I accept there are some problems but these are mainly caused by the lack of economic development," says Adam Musse Jibril, Somaliland's representative in the UK.

Mr Jibril said people had to trust the territory's record of resolving political disputes.

"Somaliland has been able to achieve this by combining modern democratic systems with our traditional value systems, where people sit under a tree to talk, argue, and eventually reach a consensus," he says.

But political animosity remains. Mohamed Omar of the opposition Kulmiye party says he does not believe the government will honour a memorandum of understanding recently agreed on a possible way out of the political impasse.

Mr Walls says it is not too late for Somaliland. But he says a presidential election must be held as soon as possible.

"The dangers of instability and authoritarianism characteristic of a number of Somaliland's neighbours can still be averted, but the traditions of dialogue still urgently need to be reactivated", he says.



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