This is the third of a series of articles on past parliamentary elections held in Somalia between 1956 and 1969. The previous two articles on the same subject appeared on Hiraan Online on August 19 and September 1, 2019, respectively.
by Mohamed I. Trunji
Thursday, September 19, 2019
The first post-independence parliamentary elections were held in March 1964, under Law n. 4 of January 1964.
The integrated law on political election followed closely the southern law of 1958. The new electoral law was passed without the crucial issues of population census, revision of electoral boundaries being resolved. However it contained important innovations not contemplated in past electoral laws. The universal suffrage and the proportional representation were extended to the whole country, To avoid the difficulties inherent in any reapportionment, the distribution of the seats was left unchanged, i.e. 90 for the Southern Regions and 33 for the Northern Regions. “This proportion corresponds generally to the respective population of the two regions” (P. Contini 1969)
The country was divided into 47 electoral districts, and the number of deputies for each district was specified in a schedule annexed to the electoral law. A number of Sub-districts such as Aden Yaval, El Dheer, Qoryoley, Garoe, Bender Beila, Gar Adag, Las Qoray, Buhotleh and others were upgraded to the level of electoral districts in 1963. In ten electoral districts no election was held as only the SYL party presented lists of candidates.
A political party was entitled to present a list of candidates in any or all electoral districts; however, each list had to be accompanied by the signature of at least five hundred supporting voters and by a deposit of 5,000 shillings as security (equivalent to $700 at the time). When a list failed to obtain at least votes necessary for the election of one deputy, one half of the deposit was forfeited to the State (Art. 11 (2) of the electoral law) Because of the difficult of making a census of a predominantly nomadic population; it had been decided not to register the voters before the election. However, it should be stated that the Italian Trust Administration had made a census of the urban population in 1953 in preparation for the municipal elections of 1954.
newsisideHowever, an attempt made in 1957 to make a census of the whole population was abandoned when the partial results showed that the figures were being grossly inflated by the tribal chiefs (Costanzo pp 26-33) Voters were allowed to express their preference in whichever electoral district they may be on the day of the voting. The difficult task of determining whether a person was eligible to vote was left with the electoral officers. In the absence of any electoral certificate or any other identity documents, and again, in a bid to avoid a vote being cast more than once, each voter’s left hand was marked with indelible ink upon entering the polling station.
As part of the of the process of unification of the existing legislations in the two regions, the National Assembly passed a law by which the northern regions extended the right to vote to all persons over the 18 years of age, including women, by a vote of 52 in favour and 42 against. In the former Protectorate of Somaliland, women had no right to vote, and men could vote only if they over 21. Another change introduced by the new electoral law was the abolition of a clause stating that a candidate to the Legislative Council of Somaliland had to own property or capital (Somali News, May 31, 1963)
Proportional representation system
The number of seats allotted to each list was proportional to the votes obtained by the list in the electoral district, calculated on the basis of quotients and remainders. The electoral quotient for a district was obtained by dividing the total number of votes cast therein by the number of deputies to be elected in that district. The remaining seats, if any, were allotted to the lists obtaining the highest remainders. The proportional representation system adopted resulted in a lively and at times violent competition among candidates within the each political party for placement as high as possible on the list. It happened, in some cases that a candidate would fail to obtain the desired place on his party’s list. In the hope of being able to receive the votes needed for at least one quotient, he would form a new political party and place himself at the top of its list. Thus twenty-one parties competed in the 1964 elections, and no less than sixty-three in the 1969 elections.
The 1964 elections are remembered for the particular security conditions under which they were held, with border skirmishes breaking out between Ethiopia and Somalia a few days before the polling day. The government’s decision to go ahead with the election process, despite the uncertain climate of the time, was applauded by the public at large. Instead of suspending the operation, the government capitalized the circumstance to galvanize the public to vote massively, under the slogan of “the ballot in one hand and the gun in the other”, attributed to Premier Abdirashid
Civil Servants banned to stand for elective office
One of the innovations introduced by the elections of 1964 was to make impossible for a civil servant to be elected for the Assembly and maintain civil service status. In the Northern regions Civil servants were forbidden to stand for elective office and were discouraged from engaging in political activities. In the Southern Regions, on the other hand, it was believed that, since civil servants generally belonged to the best educated and most qualified segment of the population, they should be permitted to stand as candidates for election to the Assembly in order to improve the quality of the legislature. Accordingly, before independence a substantial number of civil servants, including Prime Minister Abdirashid, had been elected to the legislative Assembly of Somalia and had been placed on leave without pay for the duration of their elective office.
After exhaustive debate n the constituent Assembly a compromise between the Northerners and Southerners was reached. In the constitution civil servants were forbidden to be leaders of political parties (Constitution, Article 88, paragraph 2) , and it was provided that the law would determine the categories of civil servant who would not be allowed even to belong to political parties. Members of the judiciary were prohibited from belonging to any political party (Article 25 of the law on the Organization of the Judiciary).
The difficult quest for free ad fair elections
Cheating had become so brazen that few Somalis expected fair elections, and there was widespread mistrust in the government’s willingness to ensure credible polls. The public, in general, and the opposition parties, in particular, held little faith in the government to conduct fair and free elections. In fact, in the run-up to the March polls, the Somali Democratic Union (SDU) party executive, led by Haji Mohamed Hussein and Yusuf Osman “Barda Ad” sought audience with the President. The points the opposition leaders raised in the conversation included a proposal to appoint a government of only technocrats to replace the existing administration. To the President, however, the proposal seemed unworkable as the chances of the Parliament accepting such a government seemed highly unlikely. (Diary January 7, 1964). The President was most worried about the ruling party using state resources and its control of the state’s administrative machinery to gain undue gains detrimental to the opposition. One of the flaws in the electoral law was the excessive power given to polling station chairmen, often blamed for rigging elections.
To remedy this flaw, Aden Abdulla suggested the deployment of police with the task to keep an eye on the ballot boxes throughout the process of vote casting up to the counting of votes. He urged the Prime Minister and his government to give him solid assurances of regularity in the coming political elections. He addressed the same strong message to an audience of provincial governors convened at the presidential mansion. exhorted the governors to ensure fairer, ‘one man, one vote’ elections in the areas under their respective administrative jurisdiction. However, his repeated calls for free and fair polls had raised concerns among some Lega members, who feared that these move may have adverse effects on the ruling party and, consequently, on their re-election as MPs.