The concept of universal franchise, also known as common suffrage or general suffrage, consists of the right to vote of all adult citizens in most cases on a person-vote basis regardless of the individual’s income, gender, wealth, race, clan, or ethnicity, subject only to minor exceptions.
That has become one of the most basic measurements of democracy and political maturity globally. It is associated with the principle of ‘government of the people, by the people for the people,’ meaning the government is a representation of most of the citizens in many cases. Except for some countries, many states have adopted universal suffrage to elect leaders who will govern the country during a particular period. While the system has brought great opportunities for citizens to participate in public policy, decision making, and determining their country’s leadership, researchers have noted that it does come with several unique challenges for certain countries.
Since attaining independence on the 1st of July 1960, Somalia has had a mixed approach in the way citizens participate in selecting leaders. During the first decade of independence, Somalia was a thriving democracy. It became of hope across the continent as a multi-political party system and conducted successive peaceful general elections. From as early as 1960, the country had sought to cement its sovereignty and established fundamental state institutions.
Notably, the unification of the former Italian and British Somaliland colonies and the establishment of a centralized system of government in Somalia were not followed by important legislation and policies on representation and citizen participation. That significantly impacted the country as grievances kept growing; certain groups felt that they were not well represented or that their share in the national government was not well guaranteed. Combined with other concerns of poor leadership, economic constraints and social challenges resulted in a military coup.
After ascending to power on October 21, 1969, the military regime banned all political parties, suspended the constitution, abolished the general assembly, and its operation moved to a new administration. Although the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) argues that it intended to end “tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and misrule,” The cost of its actions would continue to deny the average citizen the right to participate in elections three decades down the line. As part of state-building efforts, the 2000 Somali national reconciliation peace conference held in Arta Djibouti led to the formation of the transitional federal government of Somalia.
Representatives agreed to adopt a parliamentary system where the executive arm drives its legality from the power to the mandate vote of confidence in the legislative arm, usually a parliament, and adhered accountable to that legislative. The representatives have embraced by 4.5 a clan power-sharing formula currently practiced in the federal republic of Somalia.
Furthermore, following a decade, the transitional federal government ended its mandate in 2012. Despite the constraints, some reforms have been experienced in Somalia. For instance, in the election year 2017; 14,000 delegates voted in parliament; Five Electoral colleges in the country took part in the election (Garowe Puntland, Kismayo Jubaland, Baidoa Southwest, and Adado Galmudug, each parliamentary seat was voted for 51 delegates. About 275 Seats were distributed according to clan-based formula, a 4.5 quota structure supporting those four main clans allocated 61 seats each (Hawiye, Darood, Dir, and Digil /Mirifle) even though the remaining clan (0.5) obtained 31 seats.
In contrast to the 2012 election, where only 135 elders elected members of the parliamentarians, In the 2022 parliamentary election followed the same process in 2017. Still, two cases have been changed; for example, the number of Electoral Colleges increased in two cities in each federal member state, and clan delegates doubled from 51 to 101. After many years, Somalia conducted indirect elections and peaceful power transfer in the past years. That was a significant milestone in Somalia’s often troubled transition towards political maturity and constitutional democracy. But the current government is mandated to prepare for one-person, one-vote polls by 2026 in the coming national elections.
Adopting universal voting is beneficial to a country as it helps to promote national unity, encourages political participation, gives legitimacy to the government of the day, and encourages governments to be accountable to the people. However, some of the main challenges include that in societies with an imbalanced population, the majority can abuse it; this system is also vulnerable to populism as populist leaders can evoke emotions of the voters, and not all elections are guaranteed to be free and fair.
Within this mind, under the political party’s law of the federal republic of Somalia, article (2) has been interpreted as political parties must not be established based on extremism, clan, dialect, family, race, gender, and regionalism and must not encourage hatred within the society. That only remains as a law, but little attention is given to ideology; instead, identity is still essential.
Reliance on identity in politics poses a significant challenge to universal suffrage in Somalia. It means that clans that have the majority either independently or by collaborating with other clans can rule the country forever, and this is not a healthy practice in democracy. It also means that voters will not be motivated to look at the candidate’s vision and objectives for the country when choosing leaders. Apart from clan identity, other cleavages also can divide the electorate into unhealthy competition.
There is the potential challenge of having generational, philosophical, and diaspora vs. local rivalry play out during elections. The government must work on transforming the clan-based political system into a universal suffrage model to facilitate the upcoming elections. If adopted, the country will join the league of others that follow the universal voting system.
However, policymakers and the people of Somalia must be aware of the responsibilities and importance of objectivity when it comes to universal voting. It also means that the government must guarantee that the elections will be transparent, free, and fair to ensure public trust in the government and the process.
About The Author: Dr. Mohamed BINCOF (Ph.D.), Lecturer, Consultant, and Researcher. You can reach him at email: firstname.lastname@example.org