Somali Politicians Apprehensive Over New Election Deal

Somalia parliament (Photo Credit: Villa Somalia.)

There is fear and apprehension in Somalia following a breakthrough in the stalled political negotiations on a proposed new election date, which would see the Horn of Africa nation conduct elections within two months.

The deal has been received with mixed signals where some aspirants have expressed fears that it could be manipulated, this is according to a current member of parliament, Amina Mohamed Abdi, who will be defending her parliamentary seat for the second time in central Somalia after joining the parliament more than eight years ago.

Abdi says the selection of clan delegates by the central government, federal member states, clan elders and other groups may complicate the upcoming elections.

“We are in the dark, especially on the selection of clan delegates, in the last election, it’s the elders who were selecting the delegates but now the selection will be made by many stakeholders. It will be hard to know if these people are actually your clan people and whether these will be real people who want you to represent them in the parliament.”

This agreement followed a meeting between the Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, leaders of the five regional states and the Mogadishu Mayor.

The Parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held late last year but were postponed following disagreements over the system to be used in electing the MPs and the date when the elections were supposed to be held.

The latest developments come at a time when the presidential elections were postponed for two years by parliament before the decision was reversed due to internal and external pressure from different stakeholders who included the United Nations, the European Union and the United States of America.

The presidential elections are set to be held after the selection of the 275 MPs and 54 Senators set to take place in the next 60 days.

There has been a disagreement over the electoral system to be used in electing the MPs, Senators, the president following the 2017 decision to have this election held through universal suffrage.

In the 2017 election, MPs and Senators were elected through a consensus process headed by 51 clan delegates. The MPs elected the speakers of the National Assembly and then the President.

However, a process spearheaded by the EU, US and other stakeholders agreed that the coming election should be held through the one-man-one-vote system after the Government headed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo had implemented electoral reforms.

The stand-off over the electoral system in electing new Somali leaders is as a result of failure by the current regime and federal member states to effect the required electoral and constitutional reforms to facilitate universal suffrage polls.

Now the new polls are going to be held through the old electoral system used in 2017, but the only difference is the delegates will be selected by clan elders, the federal member states and the central government. This will increase the number of delegates to elect MPs from 51 to 101.

The Director of Violent Extremism at the US Institute for Peace, Leanne Erdberg Steadman, in an interview with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, blamed the international players for being too satisfied with the tenured indirect demonstration of representation.

“Representative democracy has allowed power holders to accrue the entirety of the resources the wealthier the power with only half of the democratic spaces,” Steadman noted.

She said she was skeptical that any of the existing tools that are usually in multi-lateral architecture are very well placed to the levels of complex conflict to really shape the political calculus of the actors in Somalia.

Some political observers blame the international community for putting a lot of trust in the current electoral system where few clan representatives and federal states are going to determine Somalia’s next government.

Abdullahi Hersi, a peace and conflict resolution expert in the horn of Africa, said there is mistrust between the Somali political groups on the system to be used in the coming polls.

“The federal member states have presented themselves as equal with the central government in Mogadishu and at times, you would think they are two parallel governments at the negotiating table,” he said.

Hersi also said that the struggle would continue into the implementation of the electoral process.

“In my view, some countries want to see the continuity of that power struggle. That’s why there is always pressure on the center but not these regional states, ” he added.

The electoral deal demands the central and regional governments collaborate on the security of election venues and protection of delegates and aspirants.

Abdi, who won in the 2016 elections with three votes, raised fears that there would be political interference in the electoral process due to the infighting between the federal states and the central government.

“I fear that there would be a lot of interference in this election because all the presidential aspirants with the help of federal member states will be trying to bring an MP who is loyal to them or believes will vote for them to win the presidency,” she said.

Allegations of vote-buying have marred previous Somali elections and now the focus will shift to the new 101 delegates who will determine those to be elected as MPs who will subsequently elect the president.

“I do think involving as many portions of the Somali ecosystems might be really helpful in trying to heal some of those much deeper divisions,” Steadman said.

On April 25, Somali soldiers loyal to the opposition groups and government forces engaged in a gun battle in Mogadishu. The armed skirmishes erupted after the parliament extended the president’s mandate for two years. The parliament revised a decision after internal and external pressure.

Some political observers fear clan rivalry will again feature in Somalia politics, contributing to the deep mistrust within the Somali political leadership. For some, the upcoming elections are a do or die for them.

“Chaos will always benefit the elite. It entrenches them in power. They do not desire peace because war benefits them more,” International relations and security lecturer at the Technical University in Kenya, Nasong’o Muliro said.

The armed confrontation witnessed in Mogadishu came weeks after the African Union officials and Somali national army leadership agreed to give more roles to the country’s forces to lead security operations. It’s the first time the Somali troops were given such a security function since African Union troops were deployed in Somalia in 2007.

The Security Council resolution on May 11 extended the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate until December 31 and the resolution allows the 19,600 troops to stay in Somalia to support the government as the country heads for elections.

Muliro said it is only the people of Somalia who can know their need and put an end to the cycle of external interventions and the war economy that has been entrenched since the civil war.

“The external actors have found avenues of sending peacekeepers that’s a form of training, income to the troops and some states who have come from war use the mission for training and keeping their soldiers busy,” he noted.

The African Union troops in Somalia have successfully pushed the militant group Al Shabaab out of the capital and many towns in central and south of the country. The African forces will provide security to the election venue in the Gedo region, which has been one of the contentious issues in the electoral process.

Critics of the UN and AU peacekeeping missions say the missions use the top-down approach in Somalia’s political problems. The mission is also accused of focusing on state-building, infrastructure, and economic development instead of nation-building.

The just concluded talks are the third in 10 years where Somali political leaders are looking for a solution on the best electoral system to be used to elect both MPs and the President. Somali successive governments are yet to hold elections on time.