Somalia: Direct Popular Election not a Likely Event in the Foreseeable Future

For the first time in half a century, Somalia was supposed to hold its first popular elections of one-man one vote by the end of this year.

The President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed better known as Farmaajo signed a landmark federal law in February 2020 that would pave the way for a universal suffrage election in Somalia.

A National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) composed of nine members and responsible for managing all elections over the course of an electoral cycle established by the February 2015 Law on the Establishment of the Electoral Commission was mandated to prepare the country for inclusive and peaceful elections in Somalia.

In 2017, while meeting the members of the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) and representatives from the international partners, the former Speaker of the Federal Parliament, Prof. Mohamed Sheikh Osman “Jawari” was concerned whether universal suffrage elections could be held in Somalia in 2020/21. He asked the participants of this meeting to explore the impossibilities of the popular elections so that he could extend the parliament term by one to two more years until one person one vote was possible in Somalia.

Last June, after years of assigned preparatory work and just a few months from the expected popular elections in Somalia, the chairperson of the electoral commission, Halima Ismail Ibrahim also known as Halima Yarey, announced that timely universal suffrage elections, one of the pledges made by the Federal Government of Somalia, were not possible in Somalia. She said popular elections could only be held within an extended period of 13 months from the date of her announcement using either of two models she proposed – a biometric or manual registration of voters.

This announcement sparked a political uproar that worsened uneasy relations amongst the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), Federal Member States (FMS) and other political stakeholders. The regional administrations of Puntland and Jubbaland as well as other political opposition leaders immediately boycotted the proposal of the electoral commission chairperson and described it as unacceptable.

At this stage, the one person one vote goal has clearly become unrealistic and the Federal Government of Somalia has lost direction and been caught up in a dilemma.

Search for a Solution

Having realized that the long-awaited universal suffrage elections in Somalia are no longer viable and while he still clung to timely elections, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” called for the presidents of the Federal Member States (FMS) to attend a consultative meeting in Mogadishu early July to discuss the elections, security and the general situation of the country.

On 10 July, the president immediately hailed his former Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Kheire’s unexpected call for a timely election after a cabinet meeting on the same day, which many political analysts consider set the peak of undisclosed differences and the split between the two federal government officials that finally led to the unprecedented sacking of PM Kheire from office.

Puntland and Jubbaland presidents boycotted the president’s call for a meeting in Mogadishu but rather proposed a gathering of the heads of the regional states in the capital of Gal-Mudug State, Dhuusamareeb where the heads of the federal member states held the Dhuusamreeb I Meeting on 11 July 2020.

The regional administration leaders were to discuss the political deadlocks and the electoral model for Somalia amid concerns of untimely popular elections and released a statement that called for Dhuusamreeb II summit and invited the top leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia.

During the Dhuusamareeb I conference, the deep divisions and mistrust between the Federal Members States and Federal Government of Somalia were visible as the leader of each member state particularly Puntland and Jubbaland came with their own troops and armoured vehicles, and demanded the withdrawal of federal government troops known as Haramacad from Dhuusamareeb before the discussions commenced.

On 15 July, the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman, said that any outcome of the Dhuusameeb meeting would not be accepted and bypassed the constitutional federal laws on elections.

On 18 July, preceded by his ex-PM Hassan Ali Kheyre, President Farmajo joined in the Dhuusamareeb II consultative meeting for the continuation of the discussions in order to agree on an electoral model acceptable to all parties. He held separate meetings with his rival Puntland and Jubbaland Leaders before the all-inclusive conference was closed on 23 July 2020. A 15-member committee composed of electoral experts from the different parties was formed to work on a model of election before a third phase of Dhusamareeb meetings.

President Farmaajo returned to Mogadishu and left ex-PM Kheire to take custody of the continued efforts in Dhusamreeb, lest the president had a secret different plan this time – to sack PM Kheire.

0n 25 July, the Somali Parliament sacked Prime Minister Kheire in an unexpected vote of no confidence, which he immediately accepted without any objection. The sacking of Kheire was condemned as unconstitutional and unlawful by the presidents of Puntland and Jubbaland, rival political opposition leaders and other political analysts, and it had a negative impact on the upcoming Dhusamareeb III consultative meeting, which later would become a controversial one.

On 18 August, the third round of the consultative meeting attended by the President Farmaajo, the leaders of the three Federal Member States of Hir-Shabelle, Southwest State and Gal-Mudug began in Dhuusamreeb. The Presidents of Puntland and Jubaland rejected the Dhusamareeb III gathering citing certain conditions were not met and demanded the nomination of a new prime minister before attending the third consultative meeting. Efforts to get the two leaders on board have failed.

The stakeholders at Dhusamareb III conference continued and finally agreed on electoral model for Somalia that was slightly different from the one in 2016 and increased the number of voters to 301 delegates to elect officials in FMS and Banadir constituencies. Puntland and Jubbaland leaders again opposed the proposed electoral model further tightening the political deadlocks in Somalia.

Locked in differences, there was no other option than the international partners to intervene and bring all the conflicted Somali leaders in Mogadishu so that the leaders can unanimously pick a plan that leads Somalia to an agreed-upon electoral model.

The President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, the Head of the Federal Member States and Banadir Regional Governor are planned to meet in Mogadishu on Saturday, 12 September 2020 although it can be delayed due to some technical reasons.

The outcome of this meeting is still unpredictable amid rows on certain issues such as the presence of federal government troops in Gedo region and the demand on their withdrawal from the region by the president of Jubbaland.

The future of the elections remains uncertain and depends on the outcome of this all-inclusive gathering of the federal and state leaders in Mogadishu.

Is Somalia ready for a democratic election now?

Based on the inferences of the political differences and deadlocks that the Somali leaders have experienced in the recent years from to time-to-time, it is hard to believe that Somalia is now ready for a democratic election that is free and fair.

Several important issues should be resolved before popular elections can in fact take place in Somalia.

The first thing is that Somalia needs a true political reconciliation and forgiveness to weed out all the misconceptions and differences that routinely hamper efforts to stabilize the country and allow it to completely stand on its feet.

Secondly, the 4.5 power-sharing model that was originally decided at Sodare Conference in Ethiopia is another challenge that divides the Somali people and communities. The system should be removed and hence be replaced by the multi-party system that is not based on clan inherence but choice of the members and representation of a constituency. Clan influence is a divisive factor in Somalia and is one of the sabotages affecting the Somali communities.

Security is another big factor, which would not allow a democratic election in Somalia, as this factor is deliberately ignored but without which a popular election is never possible in Somalia.

The powers of the Federal Government of Somalia and those of the Federal Member States should be clearly defined and separated. Many of the political confusions and deadlocks arise from this lack of separation of powers and the undefined roles and responsibilities of each member of the federal system and its centre. It is exactly where the current political differences have originated and unless addressed well, Somalia remains confused.

Last but not the least, Somalia is heavily dependent on external forces for its national decision-making and discretions. There should be a minimum level of dependence on the foreign actors such as the international partners and regional bodies and the Somali people should be the ones to have the final discretions and make the decisions for their future.

Until we explore and find solutions to the above-mentioned problems, popular elections can hardly take place in Somalia.

Mohamed Sheikh Yarow,