The Somaliland voter registration process began on 16 January 2016, concluding on 26 September 2016, and was conducted by the Somaliland National Electoral Commission (NEC) in all six regions of the country. International development agency Progressio, the Development Planning Unit (DPU) at University College London (UCL), and members of Somaliland Focus (UK), observed the process at different points during this period. Our international election observer (IEO) mission followed previous observations by these three organisations of Somaliland’s House of Representatives election in 2005, presidential election in 2010, and local council elections in 2012.
The purpose of the 2016 mission was to inform Somalilanders and key international actors about the quality and legitimacy of the voter registration process. The credibility of the presidential elections due to take place in 2017 will depend to a great degree on the legitimacy of the biometric registry. Somaliland is the first African country to undertake biometric registration based on iris recognition software, a process expected to safeguard against multiple registrations and voter fraud.
This had been a major issue during Somaliland’s first voter registration process in 2008–10, during which different clans motivated their members to register multiple times in order to augment their numbers and political influence. There are therefore high expectations that the current register will provide a credible voters’ list. Given common and often deliberate irregularities with voter registers in other African states, and the challenges experienced during Somaliland’s previous process, having a credible register for forthcoming elections will be a major step forward for the two decade-long process of state-building and democratisation in Somaliland – part of its quest for international recognition. Voters we interviewed also clearly made this connection, stating that voter registration is the basis for a credible election, which is in turn important for Somaliland to achieve international recognition.