The Somali Republic 1961 Presidential Election: A Test of Democracy

By Omar M. Mohamed
Sunday, September 12, 2010


On July 1st 1960, The United Nations Trust Territory of Somaliland under Italian Administration and the British Protectorate of Somaliland Joined to form a new nation called the Somali Republic. On that day the only biding element of the two territories was a “brotherly love of two Somali lands separated by European powers” without regard for the peoples concerned; and a document known as the Act of Union. The act was not a charter or a constitution defining the form and type of government. It was simply a list of declarations uniting the institutions of the two territories, such as the army, police, the civil services, etc. The most important action was the unification of the Legislative Assembly (south) with 90 members; and the Legislative council (North) with 33 members into a unicameral National Assembly with a total of 123 deputies. At the time, the joy of having a united independent Somali nation was bigger than anything else.  Everything else was shelved for future considerations. That included the ratification of the country’s constitution.


The first business of the National Assembly was to “select” a Provisional President of the new Republic. The deputies unanimously agreed the speaker of the parliament, fifty-two year old deputy from Belet-weyn, Honourable Aden Abdulle Osman popularly known as Adan Cadde, to lead the nation for one year.  Adan Cadde was a veteran politician and an early member of the Somali Youth League - the majority party in the National Assembly.


One year latter, the new constitution was completed by a Somali committee with the help of United Nations experts. A date was set on June 20, 1961 to put the constitution on a referendum throughout the country. An absolute majority of 1,952,662 or over 90 percent of the electors voted in favour of the new constitution. The referendum had another important significance: It exposed the long-held doubt of the colonial population census of the Somali people estimated at only 2.5 million.


Somali Republic’s constitution is modelled on the Italian pattern of parliamentary democracy, which gives central role to the Prime Minister. According to article 1 of the new constitution, the Somali Republic is a “representative, democratic, and unitary state … indivisible” for which the Islamic sharia is the main source of the laws. Under the parliamentary system, the government is headed by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, subject to the confidence of the parliament.


As a republic, Somalia has an elected President as Head of State. In article 75 of the constitution, symbolic power is vested in the President of the Republic, who is elected by the National Assembly for a six-year term. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and authorizes “the presentation to the Legislative Assembly of bills originated by the government.” The president’s most important task is to select the Prime Minister. Since the Prime Minister is answerable to the parliament, the President is bound to select someone he believes can command the majority support of parliament.


On election the president takes residence in Villa Somalia, an uphill beautiful mansion overlooking the Indian Ocean. It was formerly the residences of the British Military Administrator of Somaliland in the forties, and in the fifties, the Italian Administrator of the United Nations Trust Territory of Somaliland.


The constitution approved, it remained for parliament to convert the Provisional Government into a permanent legal form. The most urgent aspect of the business of parliament was to elect the President of the Somali Republic. The date for the election of the President was fixed by parliament on July 6, 1961 – nearly a week after the July 1st Independence celebrations. A notice for the interested candidates was published in both government and independent newspapers.


The constitution clearly states the qualifications and the way the President of the Republic is to be elected. Any Somali citizen who has attained the age of forty years with original Somali parents can run for the office of the President of the Somali Republic. The National Assembly shall elect the President by a secret ballot. A two-thirds majority is required on the first or the second ballot, but a simple majority is needed on the third ballot.


In an extraordinary session, the ruling Somali Youth League party Central Committee, officially nominated Adan Cadde as their candidate. The next day a deputy also from Belet-weyn, Honourable Sheikh Ali Jiumale Barale declared his interest in the office of the President of the Somali Republic and submitted the nomination papers to the National Assembly.  Sheikh Ali Juimale was also an SYL party old establishment. He held ministerial portfolios in both the 1956 and 1959 under Prime Minister Abdullahi Issa governments.


It was the first Presidential election ever in the whole territory and the local media played with fanfare the Adan Cadde – Sheikh Ali Juimale rivalry. The media also fairly covered the programme and the biography of both candidates. Actually there was no conflict over ideological or political issues, domestic or international as both men were from the SYL party; there was no clan rivalry involved as both candidates were from the same Hawiya clan-family. It seemed there was bitter personal rivalry between the two men.


Both men vied for the voter-rich constituencies of Banadir with 18 members, Upper Jubba 22 members and the two Northern Regions with 33 members. Not only the SYL party establishment and the Central Committee supported the elder Adan Cadde. He had also the support of the Darod block in the National Assembly. But he was not without a weakness.


The Northern Issaq clan-family with 22 members in the National Assembly, had grievances towards Adan Cadde for not selecting Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal Prime Minister. That decision left a scar and had had a long term effect in his political career. It had become a vulnerable area where future rivals could easily point out.


A shrewd politician, Sheikh Ali Jiumale immediately manipulated the Achilles’ heal of Adan Cadde.  Convinced that he could not muster enough support in the south, he reached out the Northern voters. If elected President, he promised to select Egal as the next Prime Minister.


Thursday July 6, 1961 was a Xagaa rainy day in the coastal capital Mogadishu. The Legislative members presented themselves in the parliament building earlier than usual. National and traditional music was playing over the loud speakers in the building corners. Supporters of both candidates crowded on either side of the Piazza with slogans and chanting “Long Live” to their candidate. Smart dressed Police lined around the parliament grounds to keep the peace.


The capital has seen little sleep the night before. Coffee shops and other gathering places were filled with political agitators spreading the latest rumours. Who got what and how much money is involved. Even one story had it that the Commander of the National army, General Daud will stage a coup and take over the government.

                     Somali Parliament where the new Somali President was democratically elected in 1961

Eight o’clock sharp the loudspeakers announced that the speaker of the parliament is seated. The two candidates are present and the time has come to start the election. The whole Piazza fell into dead silence. As was the custom, the opening ceremony started with the reciting of the Qur’an. The speaker shouted the roll call to find out who was present. Of the 123 members, there were 121 members present. To the disappointment of Sheikh Ali Juimale, two Northern members were absent. The speaker cautioned the house and reminded all members the importance of respecting the voting rules and the regulations.


The members set out to cast their ballots:


1st ballot:  60-60 a draw. The speaker a Northerner withheld his vote.


2nd ballot: 60-61 in favour of Sheikh Ali Jiumale. The speaker cast his vote in the second ballot. 


Since no candidate accumulated the required two-thirds majority a third ballot is needed.


3rd ballot: 62-59 in favour of Adan Cadde!


Two voters changed sides and tipped off the balance. Since the vote was secret and personal no body knows who these members were. There were a lot of rumours about the identity of these two members but the real story will not be known. The most important thing is that Somali democracy has been tested for the first time. An American journalist likened the 1961 Somali Presidential election to that of 1960 U.S. Presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon in terms of the small victory margin.

Omar M. Mohamed
E-mail: [email protected]
Hiiraan Online
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