by Mohamed Shire
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Somalia has finally publicised the long awaited Somali election schedule for the country. Since then the country has gone into election fever. Politics is the order of the day in many of the teahouses, such as social gatherings, across the country.
Election is one of the characteristics of democratic governance whereby citizens are given periodically the opportunity to elect their representatives. This form of governance is not new to Somalia. In March 1969, the country successfully held a free and fair election based on one-person-one-vote. Even though that system of democratic governance was prematurely sabotaged, it shows that Somalis like most of the nations believe in democratic governance. It also defeats the illogical argument that Somalis per se are inherently undemocratic and can only be ruled by an authoritarian regime.
Now, I wish not to divulge into the Somali political anthropology and its recent countless failings, which created the socio-political malaise- arguably attributed to extremist ideologies- that inhibited successive administration including the current one.
For this piece of writing, my focus is on the 2016 Somali Election process and some of its challenges. One notices that I interchange this selection and election - two loaded words. To be clear, I don’t believe that Somalia is going to have an election. And by their admission, Somali political establishment and international community state that the current election process introduces extended/enhanced legitimacy to the system. Nonetheless it is a peculiar system of election. Therefore, it cannot be equated to a national election process that is based on universal suffrage, i.e. one person – one vote.
The “Extended/Enhanced Legitimacy” is a new term in the Somali political language. It refers to the increase of the numbers of Electoral College for each Parliamentary or Senate post. Its protagonists contend that, comparatively, it is better then 2012- Somali election systems (see my take on this here). It is worth noting that, in 2012 selection process, 135 elders, representing a myriad of clan communities, had selected the current federal parliamentarians that in turn brought to office the incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. It goes without saying that the same Federal Parliament had twice attempted unsuccessfully to impeach the President.
The legislative branch is the heart of the government; it exists to create, amend and repeal laws that provide structure and order to a society. It is for this reason that Somalia needs effective and incorruptible parliamentarians now more then ever. In order to have legitimate parliamentarians and senators, the role of both Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FIET) and State-Levels Electoral Implementation Teams (SIET) election committees, and their functions, are critical. There have been reservations of the composition of the committee members from some sections of the political class and the international community; questioning the independence and neutrality of certain individual members of the committee- mainly the government ministers. After awhile the government relented to the local and international pressure. The FIET was later restructured without the inclusion of the ministers. Importantly, some members of (FIET) come out and disassociated themselves from political offices they worked and acclaimed their neutrality, and rightly so. Equally important is the role of the Arbitration committee, which undoubtedly has an equally critical role to play in the process.
Challenges of the Somali election process:
It is understandable that the election process is fraught with multiple challenges, some structural, security, corruption and other administrative challenges.
Serious structural concern exists whereby traditional clan hierarchy is politicised. It is argued that the overriding aim is to corrupt the traditional system in the process promoting and/or demoting elders for the purpose to rig the election. The top-down approach whereby the 135 elders, approved by the National Leadership Forum at the recent Biadoa meeting- some contend that few desirable changes were made - interferes with the forming of clan and sub-clan elders. Remember, the traditional clan system supposed to be bottom-up and this is where one derives the real legitimacy. This poses a serious challenge and might ultimately undermine the overall legitimacy of the process.
It is commonly acknowledged given its importance that this election process, there bound to be a high number of complaints and challenges of election results. So far both federal and regional election committees have not put forth robust complaint procedure that can be and will be effectively and rigorously applied.
Buying of Votes:
It is argued that election and money are inseparable in most of the cases. Advanced countries, with mature democratic governance, are grappling with how to limit the vast amount of money spent on elections. However, we are not concerning ourselves here- money that is paid for campaign events, on media or on campaign staff, it is money that is literally used to buy off votes. And for that, there is strong held view that the fear among citizens that votes will be bought- sold to the highest bidder- in the upcoming election process widespread and well founded.
Furthermore, citizens point to the absence of substantive political discussions/debates on policy matters among political candidates. Grass-roots support doesn’t seem to be a priority either for the incumbent government or those who wish to replace them. Evidence suggests that most of the political mileage goes toward clan elders in order to ultimately influence the electoral colleges, and also wooing MPs and Senators who have the safest seats.
Elections of parliamentarians and senators will take place at the regional State capitals. It is known fact that some of the federal States cannot take full responsibility for the security of the selection process for obvious reasons. Al-Shabab has threatened to disrupt the election process but even worse there is a genuine fear that they may infiltrate delegates and the country ends up having sleeping cells at the parliament or the senate. Admittedly, I am not privy to much of the election security details. However, it will be an interesting to see if there is security vetting for potential candidates vying for either parliamentary or senate seat. Even though, the government had made (blueprint) security plan for the elections it still lacks resources and the manpower so far to execute the task. These factors naturally make potential candidates apprehensive to openly contest in the selection process in particular women and those from minority groups and in general the electoral college member who will be going to their home- sometimes Al-Shabab controlled areas.
Both Somali Security forces and AMISOM are separately planning for the election security. These security plans should be synchronised and aligned with the wider security initiative in order for it to be a more potent force that can protect all election centres, candidates as wells delegates.
Different people take different positions on how the country ended up in this precarious situation; it depends on who you speak to. Nonetheless, Somali government, with the international community stewardship, got into this unpalatable position -lack of universal suffrage- is indeed very unfortunate. That said, it is incumbent upon the Somali government to conduct a free and fair selection based on its vision 2016 promise and for the international community to oversee the process ensuring that the selection process is transparent; holding the government to account where it deviates from international standards.
This is a defining moment for Somalia and its embryonic democracy cannot survive against ruthless politicians with their unhealthy apatite for power and money come what may. An Equal threat will come from war profiteers and “political” elders who benefited from the undemocratic and unethical practices of the political elite.
Successful Somali electoral process is a must for Somalia for the country to move forward. Failure is not an option; therefore, I humbly put forward the following critical actions-points:
· That all election committees (SIET, FIET and Arbitration team) carry themselves with the utmost integrity and professionalism.
· That security of the delegates and candidates alike are priority during the election process.
· That all parliamentarians and senators are screened for security and for any criminal record inside and outside of the country.
· That clans and sub-clans are allowed to appoint/nominate their electoral college without interference and hindrance from any party.
· That clans’ electoral college are afforded the chance/ free hand to nominate/elect a candidate with good standing in the community.
· That all Committees (SIET/FIET) take allegation of corruption and any other election malpractices seriously.
· That all candidates are given equal platform to put forward their agenda
· Those international election observers are physically present in all election centres to ensure that electoral procedures are respected.
Mohamed Shire is the acting Managing Director Somali Strategic Forum, Former Government Advisor. His interest is Somalia Socio-politics, East African security and international development matters. He can be reached at [email protected] tweeter @moshireh