Somalia’s oil-rich Puntland region will on Thursday hold its first democratic local elections since 1967, a significant turnaround for the semi-autonomous state that’s long been known as a haven for international piracy and hideout for the Islamic State in the Horn of Africa.
The election will pit President Saed Abdullahi Deni’s KAAH party against challengers from six other parties. Puntland’s electoral body said that more than 400,000 people have registered to cast ballots.
The Horn of African nation has been mired in conflict for more than three decades, and democratic elections have been repeatedly delayed by political wrangling and security challenges. Puntland is believed to be rich in oil and gas, but to date there has been little commercial extraction with most of the region’s reserves remaining untapped amid long-running violence.
International groups supporting the elections, including the African Union and United Nations, said in a joint statement that the election “has the potential to inform and inspire the expansion of democracy across Somalia, at all levels of government.”