A Vote for Change: Somaliland's Two Decades Old Electoral Democracy

Somaliland’s electoral history is rather unique in a troubled part of the world where democratic norms and values are not respected. The combined elections at the end of May 2021 are crucial for the country’s political stability and democratic credentials for five main reasons: The House of Representatives elections were delayed 9 times since 2010. Both local and House of Representatives elections are important. Somaliland will be holding local elections the third time. This paper will explore the factors that led to the elections taking place this year. For the first-time elections will be held in Sool region (Las-Anod, Xudan and Talex) and eastern Sanaag (Badhan, Laas-Qoray and Dhahar). In Sool, the voter-registration turn-out was substantial compared to previous years. Therefore, the paper will look into the major contributing factor to the changing attitudes in the Sool region. Although Somaliland appears successful in its democratic credentials, the dominance of traditional institutions and informal players in the selection of candidates is still prevalent in the electoral system. The informal players, such as businesses, traditional elders and religious figures took over the role of the political parties in vetting the candidates. Therefore, the paper will explore and discuss the role informal players play in the electoral process of Somaliland. Since 2017, financial contributions from the donors have decreased. There are three main reasons for it: the delayed elections in Somaliland, an increased interest in holding one-person-one-vote elections in the Federal Government in Somalia (FGS) and the financial impact of COVID-19. The absence of women in the political sphere has created exclusionary politics in Somaliland. The women's quota (pushed by the international community with the support of the local organizations and a majority of Somalilanders) has been unsuccessful due to lack of a well thought strategy sustained by a locally-supported approach that gives women quota as a way of creating inclusive politics. There are several achievements in ensuring electoral integrity and the implementation of electoral laws, such as the role of the National Higher Education Commission (NHEC), which did not exist in the past. The NHEC vetted the qualifications (educational and professional) of the candidates. However, there were still problems in which the security forces arrested and accused some of the candidates of violating electoral laws, even though NHEC and NEC approved their candidacy. Few candidates were criminally-charged for fraud and falsifying their qualifications, but the opposition parties claimed that the majority of arrests from their side were politically motivated.