Somalia’s Puntland holds historic local elections

Garowe (Caasimada Online) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland, a region rich in oil, is currently in the throes of a historic transition toward democracy.

Despite ongoing security issues disrupting some areas, Puntland marked a significant milestone by conducting landmark local elections this Thursday.

These elections represent a notable departure from the past, as they are the first one-person, one-vote polls to be held in the embattled Horn of Africa nation in more than 50 years. The only exception being the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Despite the battles against a devastating Islamist insurgency and the relentless assault of natural calamities, including a severe drought pushing the country to the brink of famine, Somalia continues its struggle to rise from the rubble of decades-long conflict and disorder.

‘Global support’  

The country’s International allies have lauded the district council elections of Puntland, terming them as “historic.”

“The partners believe that Puntland’s experience with direct elections has the potential to inform and inspire the expansion of democracy across Somalia at all levels of government,” they expressed in a statement before the voting commenced.

However, the electoral process hasn’t been without its hurdles.

Polling in three of the region’s 33 districts, including the state capital Garowe, has been put on hold due to unspecified security incidents, according to a statement released by the Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission (TPEC) on Wednesday.

The TPEC underscored its commitment to ensuring safety and resolving conflicts through dialogue in its statement.

They promised to announce the new dates for voting in the affected districts soon.

‘Volatile transition’

A recent report by the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA elucidates the challenges faced in Puntland’s transition to the new electoral system, describing it as “volatile and fraught with obstacles.”

Historically, Puntland has had an uneasy relationship with the central government in Mogadishu since declaring autonomy in 1998.

However, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected by lawmakers a year ago, made a promising declaration this March.

He announced that the next national elections would employ universal suffrage, shifting away from the current complex indirect model.

This local election precedes a regional parliamentary poll slated for January 2024. As seven parties gear up for the race, some opposition politicians have voiced concerns about the integrity of the process.

They have accused state president Said Abdullahi Deni of manipulating the election procedure.

‘Constitutional controversy’

Deni’s term is set to conclude in January, and there are allegations that he might attempt to modify Puntland’s constitution to extend his mandate.

An opposition forum convened in mid-May strongly condemned any such attempt, especially at this crucial stage of the transition period, when the mandate of both parliament and government is nearing expiration.

In spite of these challenges, more than 387,000 voters have registered for the Puntland elections.

They will be choosing from a field of 3,775 candidates, including a significant 28 percent representation of women, according to the TPEC.