Thursday, October 27, 2016
Mohamed A Amir - London
As Somalia prepare for the indirect elections in October and November 2016, this article seeks to shed a light on the existing myths that overshadow the process. These myths also existed during the 2012 elections. They include:
Myth1. The incumbent President always has more power, resources and influences to buy MPs;
Myth 2.The corruption issues during the election;
Myth 3.That International partners have the capacity to help some politicians win elections.
Myth 1. The incumbent always has more power, resources and influence to buy MPs.
When one examines the reality on the ground taking into account previous elections, it is clear that they are pure rumors. These are perceptions often created by other candidates who fear losing the elections.
What is more important is that the diplomats working in Somalia never learn their lessons, often with the opposition for presidential aspirants.
Furthermore, these presidential aspirants always question the mandate and the legitimacy of the incumbent. Recently, most of presidential aspirants came together and asked the president to step down and become similar since his term expired on September 10.
However, the parliament has made a declaration that the current government will remain in power until a new parliament is sworn in avoiding a vacuum. Furthermore, the Somali Leaders Forum (SLF) which consists of the President, the PM, the Speaker, and Presidents of regional states in Somalia are now the main body that ensures elections take place as planned.
On September 5, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud relinquished his executive powers on key appointments or removal of directors and senior staff, a brave decision that shows he has the country’s national interests at heart.
Therefore, those who argue and want the current President to step down are only pursuing their individual interests rather than national interest. If the President were to step down, who will take over the responsibility of the nation as the Speaker of the Parliament is seeking a re-election for his post and the Prime Minister is also a presidential candidate?
Secondly, the country’s sovereignty would suffer if the President were to give up power without handing over to another President elected by the Parliament.
In 2004 when Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed became President, then caretaker president, Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, officially handed over power to him. Similar in 2012, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed handed power to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in a manner that preserved the independency, the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the country.
It is rather disturbing that a section of the international community have supported presidential aspirants who are asking the President and the Prime Minister to step down after the term of the current government expired on 10 September 2016.
The crux of the matter is that the incumbents would enjoy undue advantage over their opponents. I would rather argue, the issue is left to the people of Somalia to decide because the president and the national Leadership Forum (NLF) have explained clearly that it would result into a vacuum.
Some of these fears are based on negative campaigns from presidential aspirants rather than the reality on the ground. Furthermore, the factors leading to the election delays are numerous and complex, such late preparations and inadequate resources.
For example, the issue of the formation of Hirshabelle State was a classic example where one person's vested interests. He was seeking external support but ignoring the wishes of the rest of citizens, traditional leaders and politicians in these two regions who wanted a state to include both regions.
Since 1991, incumbent presidents always sought a second term. In the case of 1991, the conference in Djibouti unanimously agreed on Ali Mahdi Mohamed because he was at the time the Caretaker or interim President when Siad Barre fled the country.
In 2000 during the Arte conference in Djibouti, Ali Mahdi Mohamed became a Presidential candidate. In 2004 during Mbaghati conference the then President of the Transitional National Government (TNG) Abdiqasim Salad Hassan entered the race. Again in 2009 in Djibouti, the then Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) became a presidential candidate while still holding the post of the PM.
Similarly in 2012, then President and the then PM both became Presidential candidates. And now in 2016 the current President and the PM are both presidential candidates.
In 2012 MPs were selected by 135 traditional leaders, this time the plan is to hold a more inclusive, more legitimate institutions and each MP is to be elected by 51 constituency members of his/her respective clan. 14,025 citizens will be involved in this election to elect 275 MPs.
Therefore, it is impossible for one individual to manipulate the elections as claimed by some diplomats. There is a strong culture in Somali society that doesn’t allow interference and the 51 constituency members are chosen by the traditional leaders and sub clan elders, where each sub-sub clan will choose who represents them.
As we witnessed in 2012, the then President and the PM were both presidential candidates, and this has even helped the democratization process by promoting transparency, because both leaders act as oversight against each other.
In 2016 again both leaders are presidential candidates and therefore, it is almost impossible for them to use the national resources for their own political gains. Furthermore, this time we have a sound public financial management that prevents leaders from signing blank cheques without appropriate budget item lines.
Consequently, the perception that the incumbent always has more power and resources to influence to buy MPs, lacks objectivity and is far-fetched.
Myth 2. The corruption issues during the election.
Members of the Parliament, consisting of 275 MPs of the lower house and 54 MPs of the upper house, will elect the President in a secret ballot.
The perception is that MPs will get over $100,000 from presidential aspirants, but by talking to previous MPs they say that there are lots of MPs who are not for sale and will never agree to take any bribery from presidential aspirants. While it is true that others take bribes from multiple candidates, the voting is a secret ballot and no one will know whom they would have voted for.
If the perception is true that MPs are getting $100, 000, then we are talking $32.9 million, which is impossible for a candidate to have such money to be wasted on unpredictable secret ballot. If money is the only factor, the many Somalian millionaires could have entered the race. But they know there are many factors at play.
Myth 3. That International partners have the capacity to help some politicians win elections.
Since Somalia is now becoming more stable, the culture of mistrust among communities and politicians are high and greater when it comes to elections.
The first thing presidential aspirants do as soon as they announce their candidature is to contact diplomats and to provide their programs. But in the process, they throw in gossip and propaganda against the incumbents.
There are individuals that regularly feed diplomats with their own propaganda to deliberately mislead by visiting embassies in Mogadishu and in Nairobi to claim that they are representing some groups, clans or a traditional leader and rubbishing all the good work of the government. The sad situation is that diplomats listen more to complaints rather than providing solutions and the way forward.
For example, there is one out of the 135 Traditional Leaders that is opposed to the state formation process of Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle. Unfortunately, some presidential aspirants took advantage of his views by visiting him with a view to upset the incumbent and to gain more support from international instead of spearheading reconciliation.
The truth that presidential aspirants need to know is that diplomats have no power to decide on behalf of the people of Somalia and they cannot help one win election. In the converse, I would advise members of the diplomatic core to weigh whatever information they receive because some of them are meant to divide the country for personal gains.
Somalia has witnessed presidential elections since 2000 and instead of learning lessons from those elections, it seems that the same old myths persist.
Yes, there is corruption involved and rumours are flying around. It is true that the incumbent presidents and Prime Ministers always have better chances of re-election, but my argument is that these perceptions, rumours, and myths are extremely exaggerated.
Diplomats who always like to listen to gossips and rumours will need to have a system to verify claims before filing as a true report that doesn’t match the reality on the ground.
In this election, MPs will be elected not in Mogadishu but in 5 or 6 different regions in the country and therefore the President and the Prime Minister will have no influence at all. Rather, presidents of regions are likely to have more influence.
Even the Traditional Leaders cannot unilaterally choose the MPs without firstly sharing the number to sub-sub clans. No individual has the financial and political capacity to manipulate the 2016 elections.
Mohamed A Amir - London