By Nizar Manek
A breakaway region of Somalia chooses a new president Monday for the territory that’s experienced relative peace as authorities in the south battle a deadly al-Qaeda-backed insurgency.
Three candidates are running for the presidency in Somaliland as Ahmed Mohamoud Silanyo steps down after seven years in office. The vote in the former British protectorate, which cut ties with the wider Horn of Africa country in 1991 amid a civil war, was initially scheduled for 2015 but delayed because of drought, garnering criticism from nations including the U.S.
Somaliland, home to an estimated 3.5 million people, isn’t recognized as a sovereign state. It sits on the Gulf of Aden, across from Yemen and on the approach to a global shipping choke-point that leads to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.
The ruling Kulmiye Party’s candidate is Musa Bihi Abdi, a former air force pilot who fought in a late 1970s war between Somalia and Ethiopia. He’s competing against the Wadani Party’s Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi and Faysal Ali Warabe of the UCID Party.
The vote comes as much of the rest of Somalia battles Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, who were blamed for the country’s worst-ever terrorist attack — an Oct. 14 truck-bombing in the federal capital, Mogadishu, that claimed more than 300 lives. Somaliland hasn’t been hit by a major attack by the group.
Authorities will block social media from when polls close at 6 p.m. until the winner is announced at an unspecified time, Information Minister Osman Abdilahi Sahardeed said by phone from Hargeisa, the main city. Local and parliamentary elections have been delayed until October 2018, the first official vote for the lower house in 12 years, while the upper house hasn’t been elected since 1997, he said.
A team of 60 international observers began arriving on Nov. 8. Somaliland’s third presidential election is the first in Africa to use iris-scan bio-metric technology to register voters, and monitors are “particularly hopeful” that the system “will address issues that have marred previous elections,” they said in a statement.