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Somaliland. Politicians must uphold the constitution and abide by electoral laws

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Nairobi/Brussels - The stalled electoral process has plunged Somaliland into a serious political crisis that presents yet another risk of destabilisation in the region.

Somaliland: A Way out of the Electoral Crisis, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines what stalled democratisation could mean. It concludes that politicians must finally uphold the constitution, abide by electoral laws and adhere to inter-party agreements if the region, which seeks independence from Somalia, is to hold genuinely free and fair elections in 2010. Otherwise, there is a risk that hard-earned stability will be lost as clan militias remobilise.

“President Rayale and his ruling party have benefited from more than a year-and-a-half of additional time in power”, says E.J. Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “But all the political stakeholders are in some way responsible for the selection and continuation of an incompetent electoral commission, widespread fraud during voter registration, frequent skirting of the constitution and failure to institutionalise democratic practices”.

The current crises stems from repeated rescheduling of elections despite the expiration of President Rayale’s term in May 2008. The elections due in September 2009 were suspended because both opposition parties planned boycotts after the electoral commission said they would proceed even though massive fraud made the voter registration list unusable. The parties were brought back from the precipice by agreement to delay the vote, revamp the electoral commission and refine the list.

Improving the political culture will be a long-term, internal process but extensive electoral reforms must be implemented urgently. As a start the electoral commission and the voter registrar need to be professionalised and depoliticised. The new commissioners must focus on preventing electoral fraud, working with international experts to choose a date for the next election and identifying problems with the current electoral list. As a priority, they must hire a competent, impartial registrar. Then the electoral laws and agreements must be adhered strictly by both political parties and voters.

Elections should also be held for both the House of Representatives and district councils in 2010. The constitution calls for selection of the Guurti, the non-elected, clan-nominated upper house of the parliament, every six years but does not say how this is to take place. This must be defined urgently. International partners should keep a close watch on developments and sustain pressure for truly free and fair general elections next year.

“Somaliland has made genuine progress in its democratic transformation, but political wrangling has corrupted governing institutions and undermined the rule of law”, explains Daniela Kroslak, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Deputy Director. “Its democratic process needs to be institutionalised. If not, non-violent means to resolve conflict could be replaced by the remobilisation of the militias and a risk of a return to civil war”.
© Crisis International -

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