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March1956: The First Parliamentary Elections in Somalia. The Indirect vote

by Mohamed I. Turunji
Monday August 19, 2019

This is the first of a series of articles on past political elections held in Somalia between 1956 and 1969. The next article will look into the 1959 elections, the second held in the country.

The Italian Trusteeship Administration in Somalia (AFIS) was responsible to the UN with precise guidelines to follow. One of the immediate tasks of the authority charged with the administration of the territory was to ‘foster the development of free political institutions and promote the development of the inhabitants of the territory towards the independence and progressively participation in the various organs of government” (Article 3 Trusteeship Agreement)

Towards the end of the 1950, an important step was taken with the establishment of the Territorial Council (Consiglio Territoriale): in fieri, the first future Somali Parliament. The Council was a consulting body meant to assist the Administration in all public functions,  except foreign and defence affairs. Membership of the Territorial Council was open to five categories: (a) Regional Representatives, (b) Political Representatives, (c) Economic Representatives, (d) Education/cultural Representatives and (e) Representatives from small foreign communities.

The first general elections were held in March 1956. (Ordinance N. 6, March 31, 1956) This was a daunting task, not because it was a new experience for the Somalis, but most importantly because it was scheduled to take place with no clear picture of the size of the population called to take part in the election process. In the face of the difficulties involved in organizing credible census of nomadic population, AFIS, the Administering Power, had introduced a mixed election system under which terms the population residents in urban areas, and in possession of electoral cards could directly cast their vote, while nomadic population living in rural areas expressed their votes through tribal leaders. The difference between the two categories of population consisted in the former being registered in the municipal electoral roll, politically more mature, with past experience acquired in the municipal elections of 1954, while the latter, was not registered, illiterate and politically immature.

As for running “second degree elections” among the rural population, the Administration felt that the most appropriate system was to apply the traditional Somali shir system through which each tribal unit would nominate one electoral representative who would subsequently present himself at an electoral college on a date set for the voting. The purpose of the shir was to make as close as possible a head-counting of the tribesmen present at the gathering. It should be emphasized here that the territory was divided on clan based criteria. In fact, in Galkacyo and Dhusa Mareb, localities in central Somalia, the trusteeship administration traced on the ground a line popularly known as Linea Tomaselli (Tomaselli Line), named after the Governor of the Mudugh Province, and separating the Darod from Hawiye clans. The area east of the line was assigned to the Hawiye, and the area west of the line to the Darod clan families. Each tribal group was expected to exercise their right to vote in the area where their tribal shir was organized in accordance of Ordinance N. 6, March 31, 1956. A total of 616 shir were organized between August and November 1955 for a population estimated at 772,000, a figure greatly exceeding that which was expected from an estimate d population  of 1, 772, 000, considering women and persons under age of twenty-one did not have the right to vote.


Grossly exaggerated number of nomadic “voters”

The manifestly exaggerated number of rural voters had to be accepted and was added to the 86,000 municipal electors to give a total of 858,122 potential voters nationwide. Then on the day of the election, electoral representatives and municipal electorate voted together. While it was “one man, one vote” for voters registered on municipal electoral roll, electoral representatives had a block vote equivalent to the number of votes they received in the tribal shir. Each electoral representative could either ask the electoral committee for a number of ballots equal to the number of the people on whose behalf he was to vote, or cast only one vote requesting the committee to confirm the number of votes he had obtained in the shir. To calculate the total number of votes, the number of municipal electors was added to the number of rural and nomadic electors who had voted through electoral representatives. The indirect vote has cleared favoured the areas which had the most inflated figures relatives to tribal voters. In a number of cases, it was necessary to invalidate the shir vote owing to the efforts of the tribes concerned to inflate their own importance by magnifying their figures. The rural communities were for the most part completely incapable of exercising political judgment and could have but the vaguest idea of what the government was.  With the adoption of the tribal shir and the indirect electoral system, a clan institution was being formalized, attaching different tribes to designated electoral districts artificially created by the administering authority.


 Only one seat allocated to Mogadiscio. Why?   

 There is a recurrent question by many seeking to understand the criteria on the base of which only one seat was allocated to Mogadiscio, considered as the most populous urban centre of the country. The answer is simple, though it may sound unconvincing for many: In Mogadiscio, there were no tribal voters, or communities of the rural population taking part in the elections process, as was the case in the outlying districts where unscrupulous local officials, had inflated the number of the voters. As far as Mogadiscio was concerned, only voters registered on the municipal electoral roll could cast a vote: consequently, with only 18,153 registered voters, Mogadiscio got only one seat open for competition between five political parties. It should be born in mind that, in those days, Mogadiscio was residence of strong foreign communities, notably Arabs, Indi- Pakistanis, Eritreans and Italians who voted separately for their representative in the Legislative Assembly.

The SYL party had chosen, through primary election, Abdullahi Issa as their candidate for Mogadiscio. He received 7,158 votes. Competing with him were three candidates: Haji Yusuf Egal, a businessman who received 382 votes, and Osman Ahmed Roble, a member of the Central Committee who received 882 votes.

The candidates for the other four parties for the single seat of Mogadiscio were: Sherif Mohamed Hussein (Partito Giovani Benadir);  Haji Mohamoud Borracco (Partito Hawie);  Jeylani Malak (Partito Hisbia Dighil & Mirifle) and  Alasso’ Addo’ Go’osso (Partito Democratico Somalo)

Based on the figures collected following the shir process, the 60 Territorial Councils were allocated to the districts at the rate of one seat for every14, 502 voters. Where a district had insufficient voters, it was merged in its neighbours. Five districts were affected by these mergers: Alula-Kandala, Balad-Villabruzzi, Afgoi-Dafet, Jamama -Jelib and Eyl-Iskushuba. Grossly inflated figures were given in many rural areas, particularly where local officials were Somalis belonging to the same tribe or group of the voters with the connivance of salaried chiefs.

Only male citizens above twenty-one years of age had the right of suffrage. The right to vote was by law first extended to women in 1959. The territory was divided in 25 constituencies of which six had no contest at all, as, except Dinsor, only SYL candidates were registered and presented lists (Lista unica). Elections took place in remaining 19 districts. Ten political parties took part in the election: Lega dei Giovani Somali (LGS), Hisbia Dighil Mirifle (HDM), Partitto Democratico Somalo (PDS), Unione Marehan, Unione Giovan Hawiye, Unione Giovani Banadir, Sei Scidle (Six Shiidle) Partito Democratico Alula, Gruppo Afgi-Audegle (G.A.A.) and Giovani Bagiuni Fichirini. The result was a victory for the Somali Youth League (SYL), which won 43 of the 60 elected seats in the Territorial Council. The remainder of the seats was divided among four other political parties. However, when the Legislative Assembly met, members of the Partito Democratico Somalo and the Marehan Union Party, crossed the floor of the House and joined the SYL party, leaving the Hisbiya Dighil Mirifle party (HDM) as the sole opposition group in Parliament


The elected Legislative Assembly replaces the Territorial Council

The Territorial Council, which opened its door in February 1951, held its last meeting in January 1956. 

The 1956 general elections brought about a new development in the sense that they transformed the Territorial Council, who was an appointed organ, into a fully-fledged elected legislative body, composed of 70 seats, 10 of which reserved for foreign communities living in the country.

The new Legislative Assembly was to be headquartered in a building well known as “Casa del Fascio”, or Fascist House, originally built in 1938 for the Partito National Fascista (PNF) The Assembly looked like a tribal Assembly, a large number of its seats filled by persons who were certainly capable in tribal matters in the bush, but with little or no experience in the complexity of modern legislations.

In its first session, the Legislative Assembly elected Aden Abdulla Osman as President; Haji Omar Sheego (SYL) and Abdinour Mohamed Hussein (H DM) were elected Vice Presidents. At the National Assembly’s inauguration ceremony held on April 30, Aden Abdulla made an important statement in the presence of Ambassador Anzilotti and other foreign dignitaries invited to attend the historic event. He said: “The date of 30 April 1956 will remain engraved in golden characters in the first page of this country, but it will remain engraved also in the hearts and minds of all Somalis, grateful and appreciative to Italy and the United Nations who have made possible such big step to happen”.

Another political development of considerable significance took place in 1956 with establishment, in May 1956, of the first Somali government, enjoying very wide powers with regard to internal administration of the territory.

M. Trunji

E-mail [email protected]


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