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Vote counting under way in Somaliland's presidential vote

STR, AFP | People wait in a line to cast their votes at a polling station in Hargeisa, Somaliland, on November 13. Three candidates are running for the region's top office.

People in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Somaliland vote to elect their fifth president on Monday as the ruling party faces a strong challenge from opposition candidates.

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Officials began counting votes in the self-proclaimed state shortly after polls closed at 6pm local time (1500 GMT).

More than 700,000 registered voters were expected to cast their votes at more than 1,600 polling stations amid tight security. The election was the first in Africa to use iris-scanning biometric technology to prevent voter fraud, according to electoral officials.

Three candidates were running for president: seasoned politician Muse Bihi of the ruling Kulmiye party as well as opposition candidates Abdirahman Iro and Faysal Ali Warabe, who was defeated in previous elections in 2010.

Incumbent Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo is not seeking re-election and is stepping down after his five-year term was controversially extended for two and half years due to a shortage of funds and a drought that has crippled the economy.

The vote follows weeks of election campaigning, including the Somaliland's first live televised debates.

>> Reporter’s notebook: Somaliland and the never-ending drought

Somaliland's history of peaceful, credible elections and democratic transition sets it apart from anarchic southern Somalia and indeed much of East Africa. Nevertheless, a decision by authorities to block all social media when polling stations close was criticised by Human Rights Watch last week.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, won independence in 1960 but days later joined with Somalia. In 1991, after years of bitter war with the government in Mogadishu, it declared independence from the rest of the country.

Despite its lack of official recognition, the state has managed to draw significant investment from abroad, notably Gulf nations.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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