July 2, 2010 / 8:27 AM / 9 years ago

Somaliland opposition head wins presidential poll

* Opposition chief had been widely expected to win

* Incumbent manages only third of vote

* Supreme Court has to endorse results

By Hussein Ali Noor

HARGEISA, Somalia, July 1 (Reuters) - Opposition leader Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo has won presidential elections in the breakaway Somali enclave of Somaliland, as had been widely expected, electoral authorities said on Thursday.

The head of the opposition Tulmiye (Unity) party had 49.59 percent of all votes cast while President Dahir Rayale Kahin’s party had 33.23 percent, the National Election Commission said.

The Justice and Welfare party was third with 17.18 percent of the vote and has conceded defeat.

There were 1.09 million registered voters in the region of 3.5 million people, and 538,000 valid votes were cast.

"This is an important election for the people of Somaliland. It is also one more step toward the democratisation of the country," Essa Yusuf Mohammed, NEC chairman, said in announcing the results.

"The election was free and fair as witnessed by the international observers and this is a step that will lead to the recognition of the country."

Somaliland, colonised by Britain while the rest of Somalia was under Italian administration, declared independence in 1991 as the remainder of the country disintegrated into anarchy.

Despite its relative stability and the establishment of democratic institutions, Somaliland has yet to be recognised internationally but hopes a smooth transition of power would help its international image. The Supreme Court must endorse the results within 15 days and the incumbent president hand over within 30 days.

Silanyo lost to Kahin by a 80 votes during the last poll in 2003. An election scheduled for 2008 had been postponed thrice because of agreements over the number of registered voters.

International observers said the election had been free and fair despite some irregularities, such as the ruling party using public funds, state media and vehicles for its campaign.

Four people were killed in skirmishes at several voting stations in disputed areas along the border with neighbouring Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, on election on June 26.

Somaliland wants to extricate itself from the more violent south where at least 21,000 people have been killed in a raging insurgency against a weak Western-backed government since the begin of 2007.

(Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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