Somalia races to beat time ahead of planned polls

Somalia could this month know if the much-awaited universal suffrage elections could go ahead, even as sceptics cited time constraints and security nightmare.

Often known as the one-person-one-vote (1P1V), Somalia plans to hold the historic elections by end of next year. But whatever happens this December in the Somali Federal Parliament’s two houses (House of the People and the Senate) could determine whether that is possible.

An electoral bill meant to clarify the voting procedure and participation was tabled on the floor of the House and could, by Christmas, be the actual determinant on the polls.

SHABAAB SYMPATHISERS

On Thursday, the Somali Federal Government insisted the 1P1V will be the surest way to lock out Al-Shabaab sympathisers because of the planned tighter controls on candidates.

“Of course the 1PIV is the only option as the elders have become compromised by the Shabaabs,” a Somali minister told the Sunday Nation, speaking on the background as the government was still galvanising support for the Bill.

“Those who don’t [support] this option are spoilers who want to keep the status quo going.”

Somalia had never held elections on home soil since 1967, until 2009, when Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was voted in through a clan delegate system known as 4.5. Since then, there have been two successive, but similar, elections.

In 2020, the plan is to enable the public to participate and vote for their chosen candidates, based on what critics termed rent-seeking among clan elders as well as infiltration by Shabaabs.

HOUSE DIVISIONS

But the debate around the bill has indicated divisions. Members of a parliamentary ad hoc committee disagreed with the Cabinet on the appropriate type of voting.

Once Parliament passes the bill, however, there won’t be guarantee 1P1V will go ahead. Somalia will need to register voters, source for money to finance polls and create a legal framework on how to handle relations between Mogadishu and federal states.

Hawa Noor, a Marie Curie Phd Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS) in Germany told the Sunday Nation the many technicalities surrounding the poll makes it difficult to hold.

TECHNICALITIES

“The one-person-one-vote seems unlikely because of the lack of concrete infrastructure to facilitate it and so the risk of extension remains, like it happened during the 2016 polls- postponed to 2017,” she said.

“The other serious question is: what is the real meaning of ‘one person one vote’? And is it driven by the reality in Somalia? Structural conditions are missing. Or is it just a statement that is used to make it sound as if democracy is at home in Somalia?” she posed.

The Somali electoral commission and the UN with partners, who may be the main donors for the polls, have given assurances on the polls, although key deadlines are running close.

The Electoral law must be passed this December. A voters’ roll must be prepared in March.  “How should all these work? The review of the constitution is also still to come (by June). Overall, I see a hidden sign that does not rule out postponement,” she told the Sunday Nation.

STATE RELATIONS

Somalia needs to harmonise relations between federal states and the federal government, after several regional heads publicly bickered with President Mohamed Farmaajo. Some observers think any weaknesses in relations could strengthen Shabaabs, making polls difficult to prepare.

“Elections can never be reduced to a one-day voting event but it’s a long set of processes with interlinked technicalities,” argued Abdimalik Abdullahi, a commentator on Somali and Horn of Africa geopolitics.

Various stakeholders, he said, had proposed various models, but there has been no agreement, “raising anxiety.”

In all these though, Somalia’s opposition leaders have been wary of any suggestions to extend the term of President Mohamed Farmaajo.

The Forum for National Parties (FNP), the coalition of six parties led by former President Ahmed says any delays could be ploy not to hold elections at all.

“Any extension for the parliament may encourage extension for the President which will be unacceptable,” Abdulkadir Osoble, a Federal MP and leader of the Ilays Party that forms part of the FNP, told the Sunday Nation.

TERM EXTENSION

“The most legal, and acceptable alternative is to hold consultative meetings for all stakeholders including, federal government, federal states and opposition parties, where we will discuss options possible, and not to extend the government,” he said.

Ilays joined hands with President Ahmed’s Himilo Qaran to form the FNP. Other parties include the Union for Peace and Development (UPD) led by ex-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the Progressive Party led by former ministers Sharif Hassan and Abdiweli Haas, Peace Party led by former Jubbaland President Mohamed Abdi Gandhi and Kulan Party under Mohamed Siriin.

Opposed to electoral extensions and negative clan politics, the group says it calls for regular elections. The FNP’s face has President Ahmed, once leader of the Union for Islamic Courts that controlled Mogadishu in 2006. Defeated in 2012 and 2017 elections, he has fronted an image of a man seeking another stub at the presidency, by marketing coalition politics.

But will elections happen? “Our worst enemy right now is time. Yet we have many things to do,” Hussein Arab Essa, a Somali Federal MP for Somaliland region, told the Sunday Nation.

With many pending tasks, he argued, it would be like “trying to push Somalia off the cliff.”