Somalilanders go to the polls to boost their claim for independence.

The self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland conducts its first parliamentary elections in 16 years on Monday, 31 May, hoping that by demonstrating its ability to hold a competent, democratic and peaceful poll it will boost its case for international recognition.

Though officially recognised only by Taiwan, Somaliland has been a de facto independent, peaceful and relatively democratic state for 30 years, after breaking away from tumultuous Somalia to the southeast in 1991. It held its first parliamentary elections in 2005 and was supposed to have held further elections every five years since. But for many reasons — not least members of Parliament wanting to hang on to office — it has not held one since. With a young minimum voting age of just 15, this means many Somalilanders voting on Monday would not yet have been alive for the last election.

After 16 years, not a single sitting MP is contesting Monday’s election, due to death, retirement or just a waning of interest. A total of 246 fresh candidates from all three of the country’s parties will contest the 82 seats in the lower house or National Assembly. Voters will also choose from among 522 candidates for 342 district council seats. Of all these 768 candidates, only 28 are women: 13 for Parliament and 15 for district councils and five are minorities. Gender activists are working to redress the huge imbalance.

Under Somaliland’s constitution, only three political parties are allowed — ostensibly to try to avoid the prior one clan, one party chaos. Nevertheless the clan influence on the partie

and on the country’s politics in general remains strong. The ruling Kulmiye party faces stiff opposition on Monday from the two opposition parties, Waddani and the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID).

Somaliland election
An old man in Berbera who is keen to vote in the Somaliland election. (Photo: Richard Harper)

Daily Maverick