The self-declared republic of Somaliland prepares to hold its second presidential election on Saturday, an exercise in governance not seen for decades in the country's anarchic south.

Three men, Dahir Riyale Kahin, Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo and Feysal Ali Warabe, are vying to become president of the unrecognised region, a haven of relative peace in the northwest of Somalia.

The candidates had agreed to hold campaign rallies on different days in order to avoid bouts of violence between supporters.

Peaceful elections

More than 1.6 million people have registered to vote at more than 1,000 polling sites.

Kahin, leader of the Democratic United National party, or Udub, was elected president in 2003 with 42.08 per cent of ballots cast in an election won by 80 votes.

All three candidates promised to seek out more international recognition of Somaliland to maintain region's security and economic development.

Residents hope it will help the region win more respect.

"This election means a bridge to international recognition and it will show the world that Somaliland is practising democracy," Hussein Abdullahi Bulhan, the head of Hargeisa University, said.

International recognition

Dozens of international observers are in the region to watch the vote.

Steve Kibble, an observer with the British organisation Progressio, said his group was encouraged that residents wanted to carry out a peaceful election that is recognised nationally and internationally.

"At this stage, we expect that such an outcome can be achieved," Kibble said.

Somaliland's presidential election has been frequently delayed. It was first scheduled for 2008, and then for 2009.

The country's long declared independence has received little international recognition.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies