The international mission to observe Somaliland's long-delayed presidential elections on 26 June 2010, led by UK based development agency Progressio, the Development Planning Unit at University College London and Somaliland Focus (UK notes that good progress is being made towards holding the scheduled vote this Saturday. The first teams of observers left the mission's base in Hargeisa for Somaliland's regions on 24 and 25 June. Country-wide, all teams are expected to commence observation of the vote on the morning of 26 June.
The three organisations were invited in January 2009 by Somaliland's National Electoral Commission (NEC) to act as coordinators of the international observation mission for presidential elections in the internationally-unrecognised Republic of Somaliland. Given past difficulties, recent months have seen rapid progress towards a free and fair election, a clear indication of the effectiveness of the new NEC which was put in place after the parties agreed to a revised timetable for elections in late 2009.
In the week since the team assembled in Hargeisa (comprising 59 individuals from 16 countries, including diaspora Somalilanders) much work has been done. The teams have met the incumbent president and the two opposition candidates to hear points of view on the progress towards polling day where all three candidates pledged to accept the result of the poll.
However, the team has noted various complaints from the political parties about each others' actions and of media bias. Fears about gaps in the voter registration process and the potential for attempted fraud have also been raised. Nevertheless, the observers mission agrees that the campaign has generally been peaceful and good-natured; that campaign 'rules' have on the whole worked well, and that the people of Somaliland are still enthusiastic about the election, despite the many delays. Indeed, a carnival atmosphere has prevailed in Hargeisa in recent days.
The potential for unrest does however remain high, the mission notes, and security threats around the election cannot be underestimated (ensuring the security of observers themselves, especially those in the regions, has been of paramount importance to the mission's leaders). Nonetheless, the mission's co-ordinators are hopeful that no major disruption will take place on polling day or in the immediate aftermath.
The team are looking forward to a free and fair voting process and the smooth collation of the results in the coming days. Michael Walls, joint co-ordinator of the observation team, said: "we are heartened at the good spirit in which campaigning has taken place and are optimistic that the vigilance of Somalilanders and their evident commitment to a peaceful election will ensure that the small minority who wish to disrupt the process will be prevented from doing so."
Dr Steve Kibble, also of the observation team, said: "We look forward to a peaceful election process that will express the will of the Somaliland people clearly and decisively. We are greatly encouraged by the willingness of the three party candidates to respect the result of the election."
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