Somalia Ponders Alternatives to One Person-One Vote Elections in 2016

Since March, a Somali Cabinet Minister, UNSOM’s Nick Kay, and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud have stated in different forums that there likely will not be one person-one vote elections in 2016, raising the question of how Somalia will handle the end of the government’s mandate in just over a year.

In March, Interior and Federalism Minister Abdurahman Odowaa stated that popular elections were not possible due to insecurity and limping effort establish interim regional administrations that must be approved by parliament as Federal Member States (FMS):

“Everybody knows that there can not be any One Man One Vote election in the country, but we are thinking other options.”

In May, UNSOM Special Representative Nick Kay stated to Reuters that the government’s goal was for Somalia to make 2016 “more representative” than 2012 and Kay offered alternative electoral options. Kay later elaborated in June at an IPI event in New York:

I am told by those far more expert in elections than I am that that is an almost impossible, short period for all the necessary work to be done, for example voter registration, training, and setting up of a robust  elections administration system. I don’t want to preempt…what the view of the National Independent Election Commission (NIEC) will be, so it is too soon to say categorically that in August 2016 it will not be possible to have one person/one vote elections. But I think it is wise for us to factor in that the nature of the electoral process in August 2016 may not be one person/one vote.” [Listen at the 18:30 mark of the video]

This week, President Hassan Sheikh told parliament that there will be an alternative to a one person-one vote election in 2016, as VOA Somali journalist Harun Maruf pointed out.

As is stands, it is unclear what will happen when the government’s mandate ends in Fall 2016.

How Are Elections Supposed to Occur?

UNSOM and the Somali Federal Government (SFG) appear to be abandoning one person-one vote elections even before there has been a broad understanding about what the provisional constitution says should occur.

To recap: Somalis are supposed to elect members of the Lower House, and the yet to be created Upper House (which is to be comprised of directly elected members of the parliamentary-approved Federal Member States).

Then, according to Article 89 of the provisional constitution, the Lower and Upper House members will vote for the President, i.e., not the members of the public directly.

At the moment, there are serious technical issues — along with a tenuous security situation — that will create serious obstacles to this process:

  • Members of the National Independent Elections Commission (NIEC) — responsible for determining electoral procedures to be approved by parliament — have not yet been approved and Puntland to date has rejected those that have been nominated;
  • A census to help determine the number of eligible voters and contribute information toward the formation of electoral districts has not been carried out; almost all important political figures rejected Somalia’s October 2014 Population Estimation Survey — a less costly and robust version of the census;
  • The regional state formation process is at risk of creating administrations that do not have region-wide support or control of territory within their borders, and the boundaries themselves are often in dispute; this may compromise the legitimacy of the Upper House as a representative body of coherent federal states.

Key Takeaways

Declaring what kind of transition process there will be in 2016 without a consensus from major stakeholders is legally and politically risky. Insufficient consultations and inclusion by both federal and regional political leaders on key issues has been one of the drivers of political crises in Somalia’s federalism process.

Therefore, President Hassan Sheikh may want to be careful as he speaks freely on 2016 elections procedures since he has said he will be a candidate again. At the same time, honesty about the likelihood of one person-one vote elections in 2016 may be a welcome dose of reality that often escapes political statements. However, it needs to be backed up with genuine efforts to shore up a consensus. It may be time to bring back the short-lived Somali Leadership Forum, which appears to have broken down as Jubaland “suspended relations” with the SFG and Puntland is “on the verge” of doing so itself again.

Somalia probably can’t equally prioritize preparing for one person-one vote elections AND possible alternatives. The country certainly should continue its work to establish electoral procedures that allow the potential for one person-one vote elections at the federal and regional level. But at some point soon, discussion of other options for 2016 will have to be made public and become the utmost priority in order to facilitate broader debate on the country’s immediate political future. Failure to do so may result in yet another mandate extension of the government, which may upset regional leaders but would represent an outcome the international community may want to see rather than a “collapse” in any form.

In the long term, it may be challenging to transition from a clan-based system of representation to popular representation. Mirroring many post-civil war political processes, participation in Somalia’s federalization process has been clan-based to ensure that clans feel sufficiently consulted and represented, even as clan representatives often claim they are not. In this context, it is important to question how Somalia can move toward a one person-one vote system of government that somehow addresses the desire to have “fair” clan representation. An important indicator may be the lengths to which newly developing political associations started by figures such as ex-PM Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed or ex-Mogadishu Mayor Mohamud Tarzan appeal to broad communities — especially those outside Mogadishu.

 



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  1. The Way Forward for Elections in Somalia | African Policy Review

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