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Somaliland votes for new president amid tight contest

Women queue to cast their votes in the presidential election in Hargeisa, in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, in Somalia on Nov. 13, 2017. (Photo by AP)

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

More than 700,000 registered voters are expected to cast their votes at more than 1,600 polling stations across Somaliland amid tight security in the peaceful enclave.

This election will be the first one in Africa to use iris-scan biometric technology to prevent anyone from voting more than once, said Somaliland's electoral officials.

Three candidates are running for president following weeks of election campaigns. The current president is stepping down after his five-year term was controversially extended for two and half years because of a shortage of funds and a drought. Muse Bihi Abdi, the candidate for the ruling Kulmiye party and his main challenger Abdirahman Irro from the opposition Wadani party are slight favorites over Faisal Ali Warabe, a veteran politician from the opposition party UCID.

Ruling party candidate Muse Bihi Abdi speaks to the media after casting his vote in the presidential election in Hargeisa, in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, in Somalia on Nov. 13, 2017. (Photo by AP)

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 6 p.m. Long lines have formed outside polling stations as soldiers stood guard nearby.

Results are expected by Friday. The new president will serve a five-year term that can be renewed once. The vote will be monitored by a British-funded team of 60 international observers from 27 countries.

The Somaliland government will block access to social media during the vote-counting period to try to prevent the spread of rumors about election results.

Somaliland, a haven of relative peace in northwestern Somalia declared its unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991. However, no country has so far recognized it as an independent state. Some voters said they hope Monday's vote will help Somaliland's push for international recognition.

"We hope it'll be a peaceful election that will prove to the world that Somaliland deserves an international recognition," said Barkhad Jama, a resident in Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital.

(Source: AP)

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