Ex-Fighter Pilot Wins Somaliland Presidency After Protests

The ruling party candidate in the breakaway region of Somaliland won a presidential election that saw fatal protests in the wake of polling, the chief observer said.

Muse Bihi Abdi of the Kulmiye Party won 55.2 percent, or 305,909, of the ballots cast on Nov. 13, according to observer Michael Walls, who cited the National Election Commission. The candidate of Wadani, the main opposition party, secured 40.7 percent and the group has signaled it will challenge the results at the Supreme Court, Walls said.

Wadani supporters staged protests in the days following the vote, with between two and seven people reported killed Nov. 16 by stray bullets fired by police in the cities of Hargeisa and Burao, according to Walls. Four calls to Defense Minister Ahmed Haji Ali Adami and Information Minister Abdilahi Sahardeed seeking comment didn’t connect.

Somaliland, which cut ties with Somalia in 1991 amid a civil war, is home to an estimated 3.5 million people and not recognized as a sovereign state. It’s located on the Gulf of Aden, across from Yemen and on the approach to a global shipping choke-point that leads to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

Abdi, a former air force pilot who fought in a late 1970s war between Somalia and Ethiopia, is now set to replace Ahmed Mohamoud Silanyo, who steps down after seven years as president.

Walls said his election-monitoring teams found some irregularities, including underage voting and observers from opposition parties being excluded from polling stations, although they weren’t widespread enough to affect the election’s integrity.

The electoral commission didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the results. Three phone calls to Wadani campaign manager Hamse Khaire to ask about the party’s reported court challenge didn’t connect.

International partners including the U.S. and European Union in a Tuesday statement urged all parties to “contribute to the respect of peace and order in Somaliland and to pursue any electoral complaints through the legally established channels and institutions.”