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Somalia’s solution to electoral crisis could be a unity government

A man casts his ballot on November 16, 2016, in Baidoa, Somalia. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP


In the final week of June, Ms Halima Ismail, head of the National Independent Electoral Commission of Somalia [NIEC], presented two options for holding one-person-one-vote elections by September 2021.

That submission, however, elicited vigorous responses. There is a group that saw that as a backdoor extension of the incumbents’ term, by delaying elections which were initially scheduled to be done by February 2021. There is another group that saw that as an opportunity to delay and make things better.

Whichever way we look at it, Somalia needs an electoral model that will, as much as possible include ordinary folk in elections. So how does the country reconcile the divergent views without hurting its stability? The obvious choice should be to implement the NIEC proposal.

But the real question is whether the National Assembly should decide to extend the term while the wider opposition parties and the leaders of Puntland and Jubaland oppose such a move.

Indeed critics have questioned whether each of the grandstanding has the interest of the Somali ordinary citizens at heart. The sad reality is that for more than two decades, Somali elections and discussions in politics has centered exclusively on the interest of a few politicians and ignores the plight and future Somali citizens.

The leaders of some opposition parties and the leaders of Jubaland, Puntland are pushing towards holding indirect elections before the end of the FGS mandate in February 20201.

CHALLENGES

But the reality shows that the indirect elections have led to a few  political stakeholders holding the country hostage for more than 20 years for the sake of their narrow-minded political interest and the country is still witnessing the following challenges.

These include widespread insecurity which has seen the rampant killing of innocent people and spread impunity in Somalia mostly by terror groups, but sometimes by legal security authorities.

Somalia has had the presence of more than 22,000 Amisom troops (which have now been reduced to 19,626), supporting more 18,000 SNA soldiers against al-Shabaab. Yet such a large military has not yet defeated al-Shabaab. This is partially due to lack of political accountability

In addition, the country faces increased clan conflict and widespread displacement and internal refugees. An estimated 2.6 million people are still displaced internally, according to UN figures.

And the yearly floods and major droughts in the country continue without long-term solutions by the successful administration of Somalia.

Despite the above magnitude challenges and continued crises in Somalia, the political elite has shown no interest in the politics of accountability during the election and after the election takes place.

NO CHECKS

The political elite has created a system where checks and balances do not exist. They have been detached from the ordinary folk, and assured of an electoral model where MPs know they can bribe the traditional leaders to get delegates and win a seat.

Some disturbing reports indicated some of the current MPs are pushing to manipulate the electoral system further so that in every election, they could shift their constituency to a new voting bloc constituency.

Put simply, it means that MP X can, in future transport delegates from Mogadishu to another place he is popular in case a threat emerges in his stronghold. That hasn’t passed yet, but it could signal a more chaotic future.

In truth, Somalia has emerged from dirtier politics. Former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud claimed the 2016 election was more legitimate since more than 13,000 delegates participated. In reality, there has been deeper electoral fraud in Somalia and the 2016 election enhanced corruption to the regions and districts.

This time, the Somali political elite has been clever again, entertaining the international community with proposals similar with the past, such as pushing for additional delegates but maintaining an indirect election in 2021.

Somalia has had peaceful transfer of power for the last decade. But indirect elections have been the best instrument to deepen the discrimination against women and youth to exercise their political rights in Somalia.

MALE DOMINATION

The result of 20 years of indirect elections has produced a majorly male-dominated political arena and a government only led by men and technocrats who are mostly male. Besides, there has been widespread injustice against minorities and ethnic discrimination is practised in the open in all aspects of society.

In Somalia, it has become a tradition that working for the government means that it has to follow the discriminatory 4.5 power-sharing mechanisms, and not based on merit. As a result, most of the high government officials are male-dominated.

So how do we improve this type of system? It should start with correcting the electoral process.

First, national leaders and all party leaders should welcome the election commission’s recommendation that the country holds elections in 1P1V (one-person-one-vote) in September 2021.

To prevent the emergence of insecurity, and political instability it’s a necessity that the President exercises his leadership and calls for an emergency National Consultative Dialogue conference aiming to establish a government of National Unity whose prime mandate should be to hold elections on time and without a delay.

To formalise the agreement, the Federal parliament will adopt such a National Accord and based on that, extend the mandate of the federal government by two years.

As follow up, parliament will endorse the government of National Unity and will exercise its duty of oversight to implement the Accord.

That Accord should see a new council of ministers with representation from all federal member states. That could bolster confidence between the two levels of government.

The International Community will need to give space to Somali leaders to reach agreement on pending issues and avoid imposing on half-baked solutions that can have deadly consequences.

PEACE

Somali leaders must focus on the long term interests of Somali people who want to be peaceful and live side by side with their neighbours.

Additionally, the federal member states and the federal government must agree on the distribution of the budget for the coming elections.  That can guarantee independence of holding free and fair elections.

Waiting for the international community to fund elections in Somalia is to attract their undue influence on the government and by extension harm the sovereignty of Somalia.

This proposal may face opposition, especially from the vocal opposition leaders. But it won’t be the first time the term of parliament has been extended.

In 2011, then President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed saw a year extension for parliament through the so-called Kampala Accord. His successor, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s mandate was also extended for six months during the indirect election process in Somalia.

The international community, and the African Union in particular, can help bring historic elections to Somalia by promoting the implementation of the current approved laws by the Federal parliament of Somalia.

They will need a stronger partner in Somalia. Neighbours especially Kenya will need a credible strong partner for peace and stability which can only be brought by leaders elected directly by Somali citizens.

There is no doubt that the Farmaajo administration started major security and economic reforms in Somalia and that is what informed the IMF and WB decision on debt relief for Somalia.

But to sustain the progress made so far and the efforts and investment, the international community has to take a bold unified approach towards Somalia and urge Somali leaders to agree a roadmap to implement electoral laws passed by parliament.


Abdirisak M. Aden is former Senior Adviser to the Somalia President; former Permanent Secretary,  Ministry of Information and current Executive Chairman, Farsight Africa Research & Policy Studies.
He can be reached at aden@farsightafrica.com

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