Last week, Somalia formed a National Consultative Forum (NCF) tasked with deciding a format for next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections.
Earlier this year on several occasions, Somali and foreign officials made it clear that one person-one vote elections were not possible due to lack of technical progress and insecurity. With time to plan 2016 polls running out, the NCF is the last real opportunity to identify a transition process that appeases most stakeholders. The NCF is composed of the following members:
- the President, Prime Minister, and regional presidents of the Interim Jubba Administration (IJA/Jubaland), Interim Southwest Administration (ISWA), Interim Galmudug Administration, and Puntland;
- Middle Shabelle and Hiiraan (as a yet-to-be-formed administration) will contribute four members; Banadir region (which includes Mogadishu) is allocated three slots;
- 20 Federal lawmakers, 10 Federal Ministers, 20 regional ministers, 12 representatives of regional civil society groups and 5 from national civil society groups.
- International partners get “observer status”, including: UN, USA, UK, EU, AU, IGAD, Sweden, and Italy.
The NCF is responsible for carrying out nation-wide consultations before reaching a decision on the 2016 election format by the end of 2015. The decision is supposed to be enacted by a law in parliament, according to a government statement.
UN and Somali government statements did not explain how the NCF would actually finalize its decision, whether by a simple majority vote or unanimity among NCF members, but it is undoubtedly an important factor to clear up as the process moves forward.
How Did Somalia Get To This Point?
Before the NCF was formed, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) was responsible for conducting local consultations and making recommendations regarding electoral procedures that were to be approved by parliament. However, the NIEC was not constructed and approved until July 2015, and Puntland region rejected its legitimacy, along with the constitutional review and border commissions, because it believed it was not consulted over their composition.
In light of the NIEC’s failure, the NCF is now the de facto electoral commission for 2016 elections. It can only succeed if it is inclusive, has proper resources, and produces outcomes that all stakeholders accept.
ASWJ: Missing in Political Action
Relatedly, a key faction of Ethiopia-backed Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) was left out of the NCF and the group rejected the outcome of meetings in Mogadishu. ASWJ has continued to battle the Interim Galmudug Administration (led by the Somali President’s ally Abdikarim Guled) for political space and territorial control despite the signing of a peace deal in August. ASWJ may seek a stronger relationship with Ethiopia for political and military support if it continues to be locked out of political processes.
The fact that the NCF was given the function of the NIEC highlights how Somalia’s federalism process is an ad hoc affair, which is a pattern of statebuilding in developing countries.
Political conflict and an ambiguously worded provisional constitution make it almost impossible to follow step-by-step plans and deadlines, including those provided in the Vision 2016 roadmap.
Ongoing political disagreements about the process has resulted in “forum shopping” in which stakeholders displeased with one political forum either set up an independent parallel structure or demand the use of an alternative forum that accommodates their interests. For example, when ASWJ was displeased with the process to form the Interim Galmudug Administration in central Somalia, it held a separate conference in Dhuusamareeb to form its own regional administration, and it has continued to fight Galmudug over political and territorial control.
In the same way, the NIEC was clearly not a body that could cull enough resources and legitimacy among elites, so it is not surprising that it has been stripped of its main responsibility for this election cycle.
But can the NCF succeed in a matter of months where President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration has completely failed the last three years? Unresolved tensions threaten the ability of NCF stakeholders to do so.
Puntland and Jubaland briefly withdrew from the talks to form the NCF, apparently due to ongoing disputes over the provisional constitution, the Puntland-Galmudug border, and the actions of the federal parliament in Jubaland.
(Note: It would be strange if Jubaland temporarily vacated NCF talks over a grudge against the federal parliament for controversially trying to dissolve its regional parliament in June due to clan disputes. Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe added 10 seats for aggrieved communities in early September, essentially accepting the federal parliament’s argument.)
If the NCF is to accomplish its goals, then regional and federal stakeholders will have to set aside issues that probably cannot be wholly resolved before the end of 2016. If these disputes cannot be put on the backburner, it will make a scenario more likely in which the mandate of the current government is extended – an outcome that many do not want to see occur.
One opportunity to ensure poll negotiations run more smoothly is for stakeholders like Puntland, Jubaland, civil society, and federal parliamentarians to publish their ideas about potential election formats.
Most recommendations for 2016 election formats embody similar concepts: the Somali population is proposed to be represented by district or region-based electorates, which then elect political parties that field lists of 275 candidates (according to a clan formula) for each seat in parliament.
If stakeholders present their ideas publicly, it will allow the NCF to evaluate the expectations of its members and to better craft a format that accomodates those expectations. It would also prevent parties from simply acting as rejectionists to outcomes without proposing ideas of their own.