In the last four days, two separate attempts by Somali Members of Parliament (MPs) to begin a debate to dismiss Prime Minister (PM) Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed under a controversial no-confidence motion has resulted into separate bouts of uncontrollable raucous.
Shouting matches, whistle-blowing, and street-style protests inside the parliament building kept Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawaari from introducing the anti-PM motion for a second session this past Saturday.
Call it a creative form of “group filibuster.”
The political insurgency inside the parliament was in part a campaign of support for the PM but also a rejection of the notion and largely true allegation that bribes are offered to many MPs to influence their stance in the perennial dispute.
Protesting MPs held up “Save the Nation” and “Man or Country?” placards in an attempt to indicate the gravity of their demonstrations, and amid the rushes of blood to the head, it was unclear whether this was going to be democracy by the pen or by the fist, as has happened in the past.
Despite the Occupy Wall Street vibe, it is widely understood that more MPs support the President’s position than the PM, and the tactics of the President’s opposition can only last so long before something gives.
It is clear that the international community does not want the PM to be dismissed or submit to pressure to resign since the likely three month-long process to select and approve a new PM and construct a new cabinet would make it significantly more difficult to finish the most urgent Vision 2016 statebuilding tasks: finishing the provisional constitution, completing the formation of Federal Member States, and preparing for elections.
However, major donor countries can only influence the direction of the tide so much.
Fourteen of twenty-five cabinet ministers recently called for the PM to resign, adding to the political pressure that is already heavy from the prospect of a no-confidence motion continuing in the parliament.
In the meantime, potential successors to PM Abdiweli are coming to the fore. Unsurprisingly, the main names immediately available are “close to the President,” according to local reports.
One of the alleged suitors of the position is the current Finance Minister, Hussein Abdi Halane. He is reportedly close to the President and has links with the figure at the center of the crisis, former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister and Presidential confidante Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir, who was sent to the political basement in a contested cabinet reshuffle in October.
Another name brought up in the media is Puntland Minister of Education, Ali Haji Warsame, who has strong Islamist ties and is allegedly on good terms with the Dam Jadiid (New Blood) religious group often affiliated with the President. Picking Warsame could please a certain faction of constituencies that would like to see a Puntland or Islamist politician feature highly in the federal government.
As much as it is important for any new potential PM to have credibility among regional actors, it is arguably as critical that this figure is able to form an effective partnership with the President in order to carry out a political agenda with minimal disagreement.
Of course, different groups with their own interests will be trying to influence who becomes the next Prime Minister if it comes to that, including influential factions of Darod sub-clans (e.g., the Majerteen and Marehan, and perhaps sub-sub-clans), Dam Jadiid and other allies close to the President, as well as major donor countries.
MPs, cabinet ministers, and respective allies of the President and PM will continue to blame each other for the protracted conflict. However, fighting between the two top leaders will continue until there is a mutual understanding of their respective powers and responsibilities under an ambiguous provisional constitution that does not reflect the reality of the President’s influence.
The much debated longer-term question over whether Somalia should have either a President or PM — but not both — is impractical at a time in which the process to revise and ratify the provisional constitution is already troubled by delays and disagreement.
Needless to say, the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission — whose work is to be guided by a yet to be officialized parliamentary Oversight Committee — does not need further challenges with its workload.
Lastly, it would be easy to think that all this political turmoil is rendering security operations in Mogadishu significantly less effective. But even as al-Shabaab’s IED attacks, mortars, and assassinations have recently picked up in the capital, intelligence and security forces interestingy have managed to conduct several successful raids against al-Shabaab hideouts and weapons garages in and around Mogadishu.
Spikes in insecurity are serious, but in the long-term they are less significant than the inability of the President and PM to function as effective partners and the continuation of a tenuous relationship between the Banaadir administration and the Somali government regarding control over security forces and other power-sharing issues.
More broadly, seeking the exit of the PM or demanding that the PM stay in office without addressing the fundamental sources of instability are recipes for the same disaster with different names in the headlines.