International election observers are gathering data following Wednesday’s municipal elections in Somaliland. They hope to present their preliminary findings to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Monday. The observers were stationed at about 20 percent of the polling stations.
Dr. Steve Kibble, head of the London-based NGO Progressio, also led the International Election Observers mission in Somaliland.
“I think the thing that stood out for me was the exuberance and enthusiasm of the voters, particularly young women. That did spillover into – what you might call – over excited behavior. And I think there were some problems… when polling stations shut because the ballot papers had run out and there were still people looking to vote, who either made a fuss or tried to find a polling station where they could vote,” he said.
Kibble said the observer team continues to collect information on the ballot shortages. But there is a legal procedure that addresses the problem.
‘Each polling station,” he said, “has 575 ballot papers each on the expectation that the figures would be roughly similar…to the presidential elections of 2010. The numbers voting appear to have taken NEC by surprise. Not that I blame them because they have to act on the basis of computer projections. There’s a provision for further ballot papers and possibly ballot boxes to be sent out,” he said.
The observer team leader said he did ask a NEC official about the problem and was told “we’re doing what we can.” He added, “They’re obviously a bit overwhelmed by the pressure themselves and…there’s not that many of them to respond to these situations.”
The apparent large voter turnout may be more than just voter enthusiasm.
“The more cynical might point to two particular aspects. One is that this is very much a clan-driven process. Once you have this open list and it seems that you just have a candidate to vote for, then the clan / sub-clan throw their weight behind that candidate, assuming they can agree on a common candidate. And then try and get their base support out,” he said.
The second area of concern is the possibility of voters casting multiple ballots.
“So it’s not certain that that mass enthusiasm was affected by each person having a single vote. There wasn’t a voter registration process. So, it was very much on the basis of giving your name, showing any ID that you might happen to have, which probably only 20 percent of the population have, and writing your name down. You know, if your fleet of foot, you might be able to get around to quite a few polling stations,” said Kibble.
As for the large number of women voters, he said, “I think we are seeing a sea change – a slow one – in the way that, A, firstly, women perceive the political process and, B, the way that the political process has been able to incorporate at least a significant number, probably most urban women. And that also applies to youth as well. There is massive enthusiasm amongst women voters and my impression as I went out…is that women outnumbered men.”
Women also made-up a large number of the polling station staff, as well.
“Certainly, the whole position of women is beginning to shift a little. What they need is more actual representation of course,” he said.
There are also some problems reported with the ink that was used to help ensure each voter cast only one ballot. Dipping one’s finger in the ink is a sign a person has voted. “We suspect there may have been some confusion between all the different liquids that were being offered. So we suspect if there has been multiple voting it may be not necessarily the ink itself, but its application,” he said.
Kibble said there were instances when police fired into the air to try to keep order at the polling queues.
“It’s certainly one method of crowd control. I was a bit perturbed I must admit personally to see a policeman beating women into line with an empty plastic bottle. A more community-based policing approach might pay off even with a volatile crowd of exuberant Somalis and also a better system for queuing,” he said.
The Observer mission is scheduled to hold a news conference Monday to talk about the elections and present their findings to NEC. Some observers will remain in Somaliland until mid-December to compile data for a final report.