International observation: elections in Somaliland
10 December 2012
On November 28th, 2012, Somaliland, the region that unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991, held local council elections. The campaign and election was witnessed by Dr. Michael Walls and Stephanie Butcher of the DPU, who were a part of a 51-member team of international election observers, coordinated by Michael in collaboration with Dr. Steve Kibble of the international NGO, Progressio.
Photo by ©Michael Walls
This election marked an important moment for Somaliland because, as well as electing individual councillors, the vote was designed to select the top three political parties who would then be eligible to contest all other elections for the next decade. Of further regional significance was the presence for the first time of civil society representatives from South-Central Somalia and Puntland, acting as a team of ‘technical observers’ looking to learn from Somaliland elections, with a view to building a collective institutional understanding on election management amongst different Somali actors.
The international observation team observed about 20% of polling stations throughout the six regions of the country, and were able to report back on a process that was mainly free, relatively peaceful, and marked by great public enthusiasm. While the levels of participation were high, however, observers also witnessed widespread evidence of attempts at multiple voting, exacerbated by the lack of a voter registration system. In addition, the observer team remained concerned with the predominance of poorly articulated political platforms, arising from a party system driven largely by individual personality, shifting allegiances, and clan affiliation. These are factors that affect many polities, especially in the process of transition from one governance system to another. The limitation of parties to a maximum of three is intended to encourage the evolution of broad-based coalitions, and the emergence of policy-based platforms. While there are some encouraging signs that this process is occurring, there is still much distance to cover. With tabulation still underway and the election results yet to be finalised, the international observer team have largely returned to their home countries, with one representative remaining in Hargeisa to witness the concluding stages. A final statement on the results of the election will be issued by the observer team once the process has been concluded.
DPU’s involvement in Somaliland builds on Michael’s longstanding academic engagement in the region, and marks the second election observation mission that he has coordinated. DPU’s links with Somali academic interests are also reflected in a proposed research project currently being developed by a number of DPU staff members, including Michael and Stephanie, and focused on exploring the ‘economic knowledge’ of informal traders within Somaliland’s capital city of Hargeisa.
Alongside the production of the election observation report in the coming months, the team also hopes to coordinate a photographic exhibition hosted at UCL, and showcasing Somaliland and the spirited election process.