Somalia PM’s Ouster: Sign of Institutional Success and Vulnerability

shirdonOn 2 December 2013, the Somali parliament passed a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Said as 184 Ministers of Parliament (MPs) out of 250 present voted to oust the head of government who was approved in October 2012.

Rumors of a rift between President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the PM appeared sporadically over the past few months, even as the two stated at the outset that they would do away with government infighting of the past.

Africa Intelligence claimed that the vote was “not entirely along clan lines” as many in Shirdon’s Darod clan and Marehan sub-clan voted against him. Whether bribery or other incentives played a part in the vote is usually a topic of conversation but exact details on what kind of horse-trading occurred are hard to verify.

Shirdon stated that some of his own cabinet members failed to back him in the hope that they would keep their positions in a new government.

Some of these cabinet ministers such as State Minister Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir and Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled have long been seen as very close to the president and members of the Dam Jadiid (“New Blood”) religious group.

Dam Jadiid is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated al-Islah group and at times is characterized–often by Hassan’s opponents–as strongly influencing the president. Hassan has stated that he is not a member of the group.

The no-confidence vote paves the way for President Hassan to appoint a new Prime Minister who upon parliamentary confirmation will select his or her new cabinet.

Institutional Success

To optimists in Somalia and the international community, Shirdon’s dismisal was a success in a way because it was carried out through a contested—but legitimate—process by the country’s first permanent lawmaking body in decades.

It certainly was more institutionally healthy than the Kampala Accord struck outside Somalia’s borders at end of the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2011.

In Kampala, mediation by regional power player and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni helped to extend the political life of two bickering politicians—Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

The deal eventually approved by the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) served up popular Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo as the sacrificial lamb.

Nevertheless, the nature of conflict between the big three (President, PM, and Parliament Speaker) may persist due to the differences between [1] authorities outlined in the provisional constitution and [2] how these authorities actually play out in reality.

Constitutional Issues

Article 97(3) of the provisional constitution notes, “The Prime Minister shall appoint deputy prime ministers, ministers, state ministers, and deputy ministers.”

Importantly under Article 90(e), the president is not given the specific power of dismissing the PM, which is left to the parliament as a key separation of power.

Instead, the president can “dismiss ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.” (Emphasis added)

These details are important because the riff between the President and PM reportedly originated in part as a result of a disagreement over which ministers would participate in a reshuffled cabinet.

Instead of the PM retaining the ultimate constitutional authority over his choices in the cabinet, President Mohamud appeared to act similarly to past presidents in “asking” the PM to resign—teetering the fuzzy line between giving a request (as opposed to an order) and directly undermining the PM’s standing through his overall political influence.

Whether or not Shirdon was a competent PM is an independent and critical issue. That his ouster appeared to originate from the office of the presidency is a concern to the stability in the council of ministers and separation of powers among the branches of government as outlined in the provisional constitution.

The president’s perceived overreach could entrench opinions of those who believe he is inappropriately expanding influence for himself and his much talked about allies.

In special regard to Somalia’s socio-political environment in the last decade, realpolitik and the political flairs of the President, PM, and Parliament Speaker and their allies appear to be as important as the constitutional responsibilities entreated to each officeholder.

At the same time, this environment is a product of the growing pains that nascent institutions in Mogadishu must overcome in the long-term by building the capacity of each branch of government.

Parliament’s Role

There are no statistically reliable polls that have measured overall approval of the Somali parliament, but the recent emergence of the #YouKnowHeIsSomaliMP hashtag on Twitter provided some insight into perceptions of the generally stagnant lawmaking body.

Many would say that Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari is a constitutional scholar and respected member of society.

But, he has had difficulties getting MPs to attend Parliament and to fulfill their basic obligations on key issues such as the provisional constitution, the federalism process, and passing any laws.

As a result, improving the functionality of the parliament and its role in helping to sustain a balance of power in government will be key to addressing the patterns of competition that have characterized past feuds and inhibited gains made in other areas.

Categories: Mogadishu

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