KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The people of Somaliland are voting Monday in parliamentary and local elections, highlighting progress in the semi-autonomous region of Somalia that over the years has avoided the destructive violence plaguing other parts of the Horn of Africa country.
More than 1 million of Somaliland’s 4 million people are registered voters. The region has invited international observers for the elections, including political figures from elsewhere in Africa.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict. Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has maintained its own independent government, currency and security system.
John Githongo, an anti-corruption campaigner from Kenya who is in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, as an observer, in a Twitter post described the region as “the one Somalia with a bottom up democracy that seems to organically work.”
Greg Mills, director of a South Africa-based group that is observing the polls, said in a statement that the semi-autonomous region “represents an example of an African country which is committed to democracy and development and deserves the support of every African who wants to see progress on this continent.”
Somalia considers Somaliland as part of its territory. Several rounds of talks over possible unification have failed to reach a breakthrough and the region continues to assert its right to independence.
Somaliland’s relative stability over the years has sharpened the sense of failure in Somalia, where deadly attacks by Islamic extremists are frequently reported. Elections due there in February failed to take place because of the lack of agreement on how the vote should be carried out.
Talks between Somalia’s federal government and regional leaders that began in March broke down in early April, precipitating a political crisis that deepened when the lower house of parliament adopted a special law extending the terms of current office holders for two years and abandoned an agreement last year.
The decision sparked widespread opposition, leading to the mobilization of militias, exposing divisions within Somali security forces, and resulting in violent clashes on April 25.
Following the clashes, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed earlier this month asked the lower house of parliament to reverse its actions that included extending his mandate for two years.
Somalia announced last week that federal authorities had reached an agreement with regional leaders to hold indirect elections within 60 days.