On 24 December 2012, hundreds of demonstrators filled the streets of northern Galkayo to protest the extension of Puntland President Abdirahman Farole’s term by one year and the recent arrest of elders gathering in Garowe on the charge of “attempting to create chaos.”
Both issues relate to a potential political crisis in Somalia’s northern semi-autonomous region.
Protesters reportedly shouted “Down with Farole” and urged the president to cease his “dictatorial” actions.
However, the political context is more complicated.
Before Farole’s election in January 2009, five-year terms for Puntland’s president and parliament were part of the draft constitution submitted to the regional parliament in June 2008 and were approved by a 480-member Constituent Assembly on 19 April 2012.
While President Farole was initially elected to a four-year term, he is taking advantage of recent constitutional changes that–in his interpretation–would allow a one-year extension of his term.
But many opposition politicians and prominent figures say that it is illegal for Farole to extend the four-year mandate under which he was elected. Others say doing so will be a setback for Farole’s stated goals of democratizing a Puntland political scene dominated by a handful of big players.
Farole’s Long Road to Democratization
On 11 September 2012, the Puntland Electoral Commission (PEC) officially allowed the registration of political parties in the region, and the PEC has been conducting an public outreach campaign to raise awareness of the democratization process.
But some communities have used visits by the PEC and Farole as an opportunity to protest the Farole administration’s one-year extension–and these demonstrations sometimes have ended violently.
The approval of the Puntland constitution by the constituent assembly and the registration of political parties represents a step forward in Puntland’s democratization process.
But Farole’s opponents point to the term extension and consistent crackdowns on media station critical of the president as a sign that democracy is moving backward rather than forward in the region.
Al-Shabaab’s religious leader Sheikh Abdulqadir Mumin–who resides with other militants in Puntland’s Galgala mountains–is also using Farole’s tactics as a messaging tool to recruit locals into the group–saying that youth should join al-Shabaab in order to bring “Islamic” governance to replace Farole’s “dictatorial” and “Satanic” regime.
Thus, whether Farole’s attempt to extend his term is legal or not, it appears that his opponents in Puntland will attempt to exploit this opportunity to delegitimize the Farole administration.