Somalia: Soldiers intercept ballot papers in Puntland hours to disputed elections

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GAROWE, Somalia - Controversy over local council elections deepened in Puntland, a state in northern Somalia, following the seizure of ballot boxes by troops opposed to the exercise which has deeply divided the region whose stability now looks uncertain over persistent wrangles pitting the opposition and local administration.

A number of soldiers opposed to the process, multiple sources confirmed, blocked electoral teams from transferring ballot boxes from Garowe, the regional administrative capital of Puntland. The ballot boxes were being ferried to the Nugaal region, a source added.

Dubbed the "one person, one vote" election, the exercise is scheduled for May 25th, several months after piloting which took place in Eyl, Qardho, and Ufeyn councils. The opposition has vowed to boycott the exercise, citing "manipulations and pre-rigging" allegedly staged by incumbent leader Said Abdullahi Deni.

"A disputed election will not take place in Puntland. We will not allow an election without consensus that is aimed to extend the term," said a spokesperson for Danab in Puntland, speaking following the seizure of the ballot boxes headed to Burtinle City in Nugaal last night.

After this, TPEC - Puntland's electoral commission has suspended the contentious local council elections in the Nugaal region, particularly in #Puntland's significant cities - Garowe, Dangoroyo, and Godob-Jiraan. The decision followed a blockade by Puntland forces preventing election materials from leaving Garowe. The President of Puntland remains notably absent from the capital during this critical period. 

The opposition accused incumbent Deni of planning to stay in office beyond his mandate expiring in Jan 2024 despite the anticipated expiry of his term. Deni is accused of bulldozing the exercise to his "advantage" which could give him impetus to extend the term against your constitutional dictates, a move vehemently criticized by the opposition.

Last week, clashes erupted in Garowe during the transportation of ballot boxes with mutinous forces accusing the leadership of "violation of the constitution". The government has insisted on conducting the exercise despite the disapproval of the opposition and key figures in the federal government.

On Monday, the international partners of Somalia encouraged all stakeholders to contribute to ensuring the elections are conducted in a peaceful atmosphere and to address any questions or disputes that may arise through dialogue and the legal framework.

Interestingly, former Somalia President Mohamed Farmaajo praised the controversial regional council elections in Puntland. His relationship with President Said Dani remains strong after Farmajo's departure from office, analysts argue.

Since losing the 2022 federal presidential election, Said Dani has been a staunch critic of the Federal Government, particularly under Hassan Sheikh's leadership. Said Dani vociferously opposes Farmajo's desire for universal suffrage elections and alleged illicit term extension at that time.

During his tenure, the former President of Somalia, Farmaajo refrained from commending the trial elections held in the local councils of Qardho, Eyl, and Ufeyn districts. His silence at the time continues to stir speculation. Observers fear that violence could break out across Puntland if case organizers proceed with the exercise.

GAROWE ONLINE

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