"All our country's forces are locking the borders. Movements and transport inside Somaliland are also forbidden except for those authorised by the national election commission," Mohamed Saqadi Dubad, a police chief, said.

'Slow start'

Al Jazeera's Mohamed Adow, reporting from a polling station in Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital, said voting got "off to a painstakingly slow start" on Saturday morning.

"This election means a bridge to international recognition and it will show the world that Somaliland is practising democracy"

Hussein Abdullahi Bulhan, head of Hargeisa University

He said voters began gathering at polling stations before dawn, with queues stretching into neighbouring roads.

"The president, after he cast his vote, told the people gathered here and the media that these elections are very crucial to the future of Somaliland," Adow said.

"[President Kahin] said recognition of Somaliland as an independent state, as an independent republic, is on the way."

Many voters share the candidates' and president's hopes for statehood and expect the election to bring Somaliland 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.

Hopes for peace

More than a million people were registered to vote at more than 1,000 polling sites, which were monitored by dozens of international observers.

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Voters want Somaliland to be recognised as an independent country

Steve Kibble, an observer with the British organisation Progressio, said before the ballot 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.

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

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

Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been
relatively peaceful and stable compared with the rest of Somalia, which
descended into anarchy following the 1991 ouster of longtime ruler, Mohamed
Siad Barre.

The region has its own security and police forces, justice system and currency, however it is not recognised by any other state.