Puntland, one of Somalia’s five federal states, began municipal council elections, the first one-person, one-vote poll in the country, on Thursday, in spite of calls for delay to build consensus.
People queued to cast their ballots in 30 of 37 districts, while voting in three districts, including Garowe town, the State’s capital, was postponed with officials citing security reasons.
No reason was given for the cancellation of voting in the remaining four districts.
Abdirizak Ahmed Said, the Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission (TPEC) chairman, announced the commencement of the exercise via the local media.
More than 387,000 voters have been registered for the Puntland elections and will be choosing from among 3,775 candidates, 28 percent of them women, the TPEC said.
" I made it to the polling station despite my special needs because voting is a promise to participate in shaping our future. Let's commit to making our voices heard at the ballot box. " a mother with special needs. #PuntlandElections#PLGE #PuntlandDecides #Puntland pic.twitter.com/a4Lgxzs4zO— TPEC (@TPECPuntland) May 25, 2023
Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni’s senior adviser circulated a memo, calling on all registered voters to turn up and cast their ballots in the “historic” vote.
“The semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, perched on the tip of the strategically important Horn of Africa, is about to hold its first one-person one-vote elections in more than 50 years, marking the first popular elections since 1969,” the memo read.
It added: “The vote will pit incumbent President Said Abdullahi Deni’s KAAH party against challengers from another six parties, leading Puntland to transform itself from a pirate haven and hideout for the Islamic State to a beacon of democracy in one of Africa’s toughest neighbourhoods.”
Puntland’s local elections have, however, been dogged by controversy, with some opposition parties accusing President Deni of manipulating the election procedure.
The elections are being held ahead of regional parliamentary polls due in January next year when Deni’s term ends.
An opposition forum -- Madasha Siyaasadda Puntland - that met in mid-May criticised the electoral process and warned against attempts to review the State’s constitution “at this stage of the transition period when the mandate is close to expiring for both parliament and the government”.
“This can be an attempt to seek unlawful mandate extension,” the forum said in a statement.
The State had earlier held three pilot elections in December 2022 for Qardho, Ufayn and Eyl districts, predicting 40 districts would have fully elected municipal councils.
In the run-up to the vote, there was an armed confrontation on the outskirts of Garowe, where three officers of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) escorting ballot boxes on May 15 were killed and nine others injured. Arrest warrants of four opposition leaders were issued.