Is there hope for Somalia after flopped electoral talks?

Is there hope for Somalia after flopped electoral talks?

Flip-flopping interests and selfish, deal-cutting regional leaders determined to monopolise power: only a credible, non-partisan electoral body can deliver a fair election in Somalia.

By Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad

Elections in Somalia are underway, but for the umpteenth time, leaders of Federal Member States with hidden agendas have proven to be major stumbling blocks. The election has been characterized by uncertainty, treachery, inflated costs, and corruption. 

The Senate election has already begun, and the voting for the Lower House will take place in the next few days. Regrettably, new procedures imposed by Federal Member state leaders have spooked aspirants who have lost faith in a system they were assured would give everyone a fair chance.

During the election discussions, Federal Member state leaders led by Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni sought complete supervisory role, basically wanting to be the ones to clear candidates to run — and reject them as they like — effectively seizing the functions of the electoral board. 

The preferred candidate for the usurpers is being challenged by what is known in Somali politics as the ‘best man’ — essentially a phony contender, the pathmaker for the serious contender. Prospective senators were dropped without justification, and these emboldened Federal Member State leaders are now asking to control elections in the Lower House as well. This is the crisis in Somalia. 

To understand how Somalia got into this position, we must go back in time and learn about the historic missteps that brought us to this predicament. 

In 2017, the Federal Government of Somalia began implementing the principle of ‘one man-one vote’. President Mohamed Farmaajo organized a meeting with Federal Member state leaders in the Baidoa Electoral Conference, where the election was discussed, and an election model was agreed upon. The model would usher in the first democratic elections in fifty years. To actualize that vision, a committee composed of Federal government and regional administration officials was formed.

When everything appeared to be in order, and the country was set to hold elections at the appropriate time, it turned out that then prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheire, had another agenda. Unbeknownst to many, the PM harbored presidential ambitions, and his allies, primarily the European Union, realized that the new model would not benefit him. Kheire held on to the Election Bill for almost a year before sending it to parliament. The model agreed upon in Baidoa was changed from a single constituency Proportional Representation (PR) in favor of a First Past the Post (FPP) multiple constituency elections model.

First, the new Bill made it logistically difficult to implement without a technical term extension. Second, if the president signed it into law, regional administrations would regain control of elections. President Farmaajo’s close associates, who saw the bill as a potentially damaging move to his re-election campaign, urged him to reject it. But Farmajo signed the bill anyway, in full public view, surprising even those who had orchestrated the move, including PM Kheire.

The National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) was to take over and operate under the new law once it was ratified. NIEC has largely been viewed as objective with loads of public faith in it. When the bill became law, NIEC gave the country two options: a one-person, one-vote manual election in March 2021 or a biometric election in August 2021, resulting in a six-to-eight-month term extension. Now, nothing is sure anymore.

Everything seemed to be going well until Kheire publicly defied Farmaajo, rejected the new law, saying a technical extension was not supported by law. Some regional leaders also voiced their opposition to the new law. Without the president’s knowledge, the prime minister went ahead and convened a meeting with Federal Member state leaders to alter the agreed-upon model. 

It is essential to highlight that if the plan presented by the independent national electoral commission had been implemented and supported by the international community, a democratic election, bringing together more than 3 million. This approach was unpalatable for different factions who believed that if the public had been given that opportunity, they would forever lose control of the process.

The result of these developments is that the country is now in a situation where either elections will not take place because stakeholders are resisting the procedures imposed — which will essentially give Federal Member state leaders control over the entire electioneering process — or elections will take place, and the Federal Member state leaders have to contend with competing interests

Somalia’s electoral process has an ugly angle side, one where the average Somali citizen has no say and where foreign powers with a vested interest in Somalia are actively trying to influence Somalia’s electoral system. For example, Farmajo’s neutral stance allowed Qatar to use Somalia’s airspace, a move that gave Qatar a lifeline and defeated the Saudi-UAE-led Qatar blockade between 2017 and 2018. As a result, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and now Egypt are keen on having Farmaajo removed, while Qatar and Turkey are also trying to counter those powers.

On the other hand, the UK and the European Union are interested in the rebranded Soma Oil company. At the same time, France and Norway are keen on ensuring that their oil exploration interest remains entrenched. Both sets of countries have already settled on a single candidate, which explains their selective condemnation — sometimes completely ignoring serious human rights and governance violations — as long as their candidate’s welfare remains intact. 

The result of these developments is that the country is now in a situation where either elections will not take place because stakeholders are resisting the procedures imposed — which will essentially give Federal Member state leaders control over the entire electioneering process — or elections will take place, and the Federal Member state leaders have to contend with competing interests. Some want to award the seat to the highest bidder, while one major figure wants to produce the MPs to vote for him as the president.

President Farmajo has opted for the middle ground — not to meddle in the electoral negotiations and has elected to accept whatever conditions the other stakeholders present. The electoral process is at a crossroads; if things continue as they are, this year’s election will be the most compromised in Somalia’s history. Only an independent electoral body can ensure a smooth, credible process.

The author is the Executive Director of the Institute of Horn of Africa Strategic Studies, and an analyst at Southlink Consultants.

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