NAIROBI, 6 April (IRIN) - The parliament of the self-declared independent republic of Somaliland, in northwest Somalia, passed a bill into law on Saturday that would pave the way for national elections.
"All three political parties are in agreement over the bill," Ali Ilmi Gelle, Somaliland's deputy information minister, told IRIN on Tuesday.
Saturday's bill was passed – by the lower house of parliament - despite serious disagreements between Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin and parliament, with several legislators demanding a national census and the clear demarcation of regional borders before they would approve it.
The bill's endorsement, according to IRIN sources, is likely to quell discord over the date of the parliamentary election, originally slated for 29 March, but since postponed.
"We have not yet set an official date for the election, but we expect it to be held sometime this year," Ilmi said
Observers have criticised the fact that polling booths will only be stationed in regional capitals, a move they say would deprive thousands of people living in the countryside of the right to vote. However, Ilmi told IRIN: "About 70 to 80 percent of the country will get the chance to vote in the elections."
Another cause of dissent over the election could be the allocation of parliamentary seats on a clan basis, rather than a one-person-one-vote basis. This is a remnant of the parliamentary system of 1960, when Somaliland briefly got international recognition as an independent state before joining Somalia.
In 2001, Somaliland held a referendum, in which a majority of the population backed its self-declared independence. Two years later, the country had its first multi-party presidential election, which was won by Riyale of the ruling Unity of Democrats party.
Somaliland, having broken away from the rest of Somalia in 1991, has managed to avoid much of the anarchy that has dogged Somalia over the past 15 years. The territory is, however, embroiled in a border dispute with the northeastern semi-autonomous state of Puntland, over the regions of Sanaag and Sool.