Int'l observers say Somaliland presidential poll free, fair

Hargeisa- Somalia (PANA) -- International election observers have declared Somali land's weekend presidential vote free and fair and congratulated the voters in the self-declared state, which split from mainland Somalia in 1991.
"The elections seem to have met conditions for a free and fair expression of the popular will of the people of Somaliland," UK-based development group, Progressio, which led two other international election observer missions, said in a statement Monday.
Voters went to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president, as incumbent Pres ident Dahir Rayale ran against three other contenders.
The election observers hoped the vote counting and tallying would appease all the political parties that participated.
PANA reported that in parts of the war-torn Somalia voting was calm but with several irregularities.
There were also instances of 'family voting' -- where husbands attempted to vote on behalf of their wives.
In one instance, a man was turned away from voting for his wife said to be ill.
The exercise was marked with a high voter turn-out and the voting process was ge nerally slow in the seven polling stations PANA visited.
Voters waited patiently on the queues for their turn, while in some polling stations, like the one in Hargeisa, with high registered voters, was marked with confusion and instances of public complaint of missing names from the voters' register.
Police once had to fire into the air to scare unruly crowds at some poll stations.
There were no instances of voter intimidation, but there were long queues of voters waiting to cast their ballots even after the official voting hours, PANA reported.
The electoral process was also witnessed by the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI).
However, the election observers noted the ruling party used state resources, including government vehicles and state officials to solicit for votes.
There were 59 international observers who visited polling stations in all six Somaliland regions.
They worked alongside a group of 19 observers from IRI.
The election observers were impressed with the high turnout of the female voters , who defied threats by Islamist militant groups to disrupt the process.
Meanwhile, the election observers have urged Somalilandâ™s National Electoral Commission (NEC) to deal with instances of under-aged voters.
The observers witnessed under-aged voters and open distribution of voter ID cards by unauthorised agents, noting that NEC officials in certain polling stations took effective action against these irregularities, suggesting that they may not have influenced the result of the poll.

28 june 2010 16:32:00

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