Sunday, June 19, 2016
On 16 June 2016 the Federal government appointed 22 members body for the 2016 federal and regional (s)election committees. This has already caused unease among large parts of the society. Obviously, potential candidates, as well as political commentators, are in an utter disbelieve; questioning the neutrality of the appointed committee.
The country came along way from a failed state to a post-conflict situation whereby it is now rebuilding institutions while at the same time working on democratic governance. This is not a small feet for this country, it has to be said. it is initial attempt to conduct semi-election (selection) process within the first term under the patronage of internationally recognised government is a welcome development. It is commonly accepted position by both Somalis and international partners that the upcoming 2016 selection process is not the best option as previously mentioned. However, one cannot be complacent; so it is an utter travesty if the selection committees both federal and regional are not somewhat independent/free from government interference.
Before we delve into the merit or otherwise of this sentiment concerning the appointment of committee and its neutrality, let us first look at the role and the composition of the committee. Based on the April 2016 National Leader ship Forum (NLF) communiqué on the structure of the election committee, it will consist of 5 federal and 4 state ministers not mention the bunch of other key government officials. The NLF communiqué did not state whether government officials or serving ministers, for that matter, should be appointed to the committee or not. The contention, as we understand, is not about the appointed individuals; it is actually the positions these ministers and other officials hold in the incumbent government. In a nutshell, these officials could be biased in their judgement even worse if they are competing for a parliamentary seat.
During the 2012 transitional government for example (s)election committee consisting of 135 elders was established representing all Somali clans. The elders were mandated to select 275 Members of Parliament. Upon checking the 2012 process, it was very clear that there were no direct representatives from the incumbent government at the time. Some contend that the process did not bestow strong legitimacy to the parliamentarians given the small percentage of the selection committee against the overall percentage of the Somali population further stating that there were huge discrepancies in the process. Nonetheless, these democratic shortcomings were overlooked as it was argued at the time that the country was in completely different political, economic and security footing.
That was then, now the current 2016 (s)election process, the total number of the selection committee is 14025 in which all segments of the society such as youth, women, business community etc are proportionally represented. They will have the opportunity to select the 275 Members of Parliament. Comparatively, this unquestionably gives far stronger legitimacy than the 2012 selection process. While it is acknowledged that it is not the best model, the federal government and the international community agree on this option, given the prevailing political and security situation in the country. The central tenet of the current 2016 (s)election process is the “extended legitimacy” proposition. It is then intended that the 2016 selection process will pave the way for preparations for universal (one-person-one-vote) elections in 2020.
It is worth mentioning that the country already established National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), vehicle which will oversee the 2020 nationwide election. This body has constitutional legitimacy. It is understood that NIEC could not be deployed in the current selection process because it is felt that - even though we know that there are minor issues surrounding NIEC, and it is for another discussion - It was not appropriate since it is impossible to conduct one-person one vote. Ostensibly, NIEC could have saved a much needed financial resources had it being used for the selection process since they had the necessary training. Moreover, This (s)election will set precedent on what is to come next hence why everyone is keen to see a free and fair selection process with the agreed framework.
The country is a rife with rumours about serious alleged corruptions – money-exchanging hands for potential votes and/or key individuals promised for cushy jobs within government. These rumours are spreading like wildfire in the social media particularly on facebook and tweeter- some coming from known personalities in politics and social circles. It shows how much this is concerning to citizens who wish to see the implementation of free and fair election in the country. The government (federal and state level), the international community and other key stakeholders, working closely together in their capacities, should ensure that the legitimate hopes and aspirations of average Somali citizen for a genuine democratic process is realised. This can be achieved by closely following a strictly defined framework that is based on transparency and accountability.
The role of Federal Government:
The federal government and regional state administrations will undoubtedly have selection observers in the implementation phase. It begs the question: why the federal and regional states need to include serving ministers and other officials in the selection committee? It is fair to assume this will automatically raise alarm-bells in the minds of potential candidates as well as the average citizen.
According to the April 2016, NLF communiqué ‘Clear Terms of References (TORs) for Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) and State -Level Electoral Implementation Team (SEIT) will be developed and agreed upon for by the NLF’. This clearly gives both federal and regional governments the privilege to write up the rules of the game as it were. Hence, it should not meddle with the selection process.
Even though, Somalia is not a fully-fledged democracy, it inspires to the ideals of democracy of which the holding of a free and fair election is one of its main pillars. There is already enough confusion about the process. It is illogical for an incumbent minister/government official who is also standing for an office or up for re-election to write up selection criteria. This plainly creates a conflict of interest and goes against the spirit of democracy. In the same way, it is grossly unfair to those who want to stand against these officials who will be the judges, jury and the executioners if this is allowed. Furthermore, one seriously wondered why this apparent disparity wasn’t picked up during the consultative forums. The federal government should wash its hand of the selection committee. It should appoint independent professionals with integrity and high degree of professionalism with the support of international observers to oversee the process. It should focus on ensuring that the outstanding issues such as finalising the state formation process of Jowhar and Hiran and equally important and pressing issue of the status of Banadir region.
The role of Civil Society
The role of civil society is crucial here. A vibrant and effective civil society can play a positive role in the democratisation of this country. We know that there are also already active civil societies engaging in the 2016 selection process. Some of them were already present in the various consultative forums, however, minor their influences might have being. Civil society organisations should double their efforts and constructively engage with the government applauding where it is delivering and highlighting where it is clearly deviating from the principle of fairness.
The role of the International community.
The international community has being instrumental in supporting the state-building process and availed financial and technical assistance to the Somali nation. Leaders of the Federal and state government continuously express appreciations to them for their unyielding support and commitment to the Somali people. However, it is not merely the moral and material support that will see Somalia back on its feet. It is the guidance and sometimes tough-love that it has to demonstrate. It is at these difficult times that the international community support/guidance is so much needed; encouraging the federal government to implement a genuine democratic process in the upcoming (s)election process- chief among this is the realisation of independent electoral committees both federal and regional.
Ultimately, each and every Somali citizen wishes their country to be lifted from poverty, chronic unemployment and the none-existent health care system among other social ills. It is with great certainty that the citizens of this nation spearheaded by its youth want to be part of Somali nation which is based on the principle of equality and equity. To achieve these high principles, Somali government should pursue genuine democratic governance, which is deeply routed, on electoral democracy and good governance. Therefore, at this critical juncture nothing is more important now for this country then independent and accountable electoral committees.