Long-delayed presidential elections took place in Somaliland, a peaceful breakaway enclave of Somalia that is seeking international recognition as a sovereign state.
The rest of the Horn of Africa state has been gripped by violence for two decades and the government faces near-daily attacks by Islamist rebel groups bent on ousting it.
The violence, mostly between government troops and al Qaeda’s proxy in the region known as al Shabaab, has killed 21 000 people and uprooted another 1.5 million from their homes.
The former British colony of Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not been recognised internationally as a sovereign state despite its relative stability and the establishment of democratic institutions.
The elections have been postponed three times since 2008 due to disputes over the number of registered voters.
“I am very happy that we are voting democratically and I hope that the election will end peacefully,” President Dahir Rayale Kahin told reporters after casting his vote.
Kahin is seeking a second term but faces competition from Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, whom he beat by 80 votes in 2003.
Four people killed
At least four people were killed and one injured in skirmishes after militia supporting the neighbouring Puntland raided a voting station in a disputed area and seized several ballot boxes, the National Electoral Commission said.
“There was no voting in 34 stations in Buhoodle and Sool regions,” said Essa Yusuf Mohammed, NEC chairman.
The two regions are claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland.
Al Shabaab’s reclusive leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Sheik Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr, urged Somalis to reject “the Devil’s principles” of democracy, just several days before the Somaliland elections.
Al Shabaab hit Somaliland and the semi-autonomous Puntland region with synchronised suicide blasts that killed at least 24 people in October 2008.
Despite the threat of violence from the south spreading into their region, most Somaliland citizens are united in their desire for recognition as a separate state.
“I call on them to respect the basic human rights of the people of Somaliland. We have a map and I hope that we will realize this (recognition) within one year,” said Feisal Ali Warabe, presidential candidate for the opposition Justice and Welfare party.
One analyst said a peaceful, free and fair election, and smooth transition of power would certainly help the international image of Somaliland.
“But at the end of the day recognition of a new state is a political decision international states make based on their interests,” Afyare Abdi Elmi, political science professor at Qatar University, told Reuters.
“At times, states recognise authoritarian countries when it serves their interests.”
Pic: Current Somaliland president- Dahir Rayale Kahim