Thousands of Somaliland voters came out early Monday morning to vote in the self-declared independent state’s third presidential election since it declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991.
Polls opened at 0400 GMT and voters had already queued as many marked stones to form queues after midnight while others slept at polling stations.
704, 089 are expected at 1,642 polling stations in the 21 constituencies across the six regions of the country.
Social media sites were blocked early Monday morning as announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and a petition filed at the Supreme Court by the Somaliland Human Right Centre to stop the blockade was thrown out.
The NEC said it was necessary to block social media to avoid the spread of fake news and rumours. It will be unblocked after the declaration of results, they added.
The country is using for the first time the iris-recognition biometric voter register. This is the first country to use this technology in Africa.
A team of 60 international election observers from 24 countries have been deployed to the country by the international election observation mission (EOM) funded by the British government. They expressed satisfaction with the preparation towards the election.
Three candidates are vying to replace Somaliland’s fourth president Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo who withdrew from running for a second seven-year term.
They are former minister Muse Bihi Abdi of the ruling KULMIYE (Peace, Unity and Development Party); veteran politician Faisal Ali Warabe of UCID (Justice and Welfare Party); and then the former speaker of the House of Representatives Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi Irro of Waddani (National Party).
The three marched together with the head of the NEC through the capital Hargeisa on Saturday holding hands to depict unity and call for peace as the country goes to the polls.
Somaliland has held successful presidential elections in 2003 and 2010 including a parliamentary election in 2005. The 2017 election is touted to be the first incident-free polls to be held in the Horn of Africa in many years.