"[Silanyo] is a very well-known figure and somebody who is clearly held with high esteem since he won the majority of votes in the elections.

"He is an economist who graduated from the University of Manchester and also has a degree from the London School of Economics.

"Afterwards he joined the government of Somalia in the capital Mogadishu, but then led the Somali National Movement, a rebel group which liberated the northern territory on which Somaliland now stands."

'Step towards democratisation'

International observers said the election had been largely free and fair despite some irregularities, such as the ruling party using public funds, state media and vehicles for its campaign.

"This is an important election for the people of Somaliland. It is also one more step toward the democratisation of the country," Essa Yusuf Mohammed, the NEC chairman, said in announcing the results.

"The election was free and fair as witnessed by the international observers and this is a step that will lead to the recognition of the country."

Somaliland, colonised by Britain while the rest of Somalia was under Italian administration, declared independence in 1991 as the remainder of the country disintegrated into anarchy.

Despite its relative stability and the establishment of democratic institutions, Somaliland has yet to be recognised internationally but hopes a smooth transition of power will help its international image.

There were 1.09 million registered voters in the region of 3.5 million people, and 538,000 valid votes were cast.

The supreme court must endorse the results within 15 days and the incumbent president hand over within 30 days.