From 19-20 October, Somalia held the next phase of its National Consultative Forum (NCF) in order to determine an election format for 2016.
The event came after international and Somali officials previously declared that one person-one vote polls were not possible due to technical delays and insecurity earlier this year. The NCF was formed essentially as a replacement body for the National Independent Election Commission, which apparently has continued to do work toward elections for 2020 and beyond.
Last week, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud reiterated his 2016 candidacy, which should drive pressure for him to create a competitive process for a transition rather than expect a mandate extension.
Discussion of Election Options
The most recent meeting allowed the participants to split up into breakout groups, and UNSOM’s statement indicated the members discussed potential election formats:
“Your major achievement today is the validation of the facilitation guide; the open exchange of views on identified options; and the adoption of a communiqué.” -UNSOM’s Raisedon Zenenga
Local station Goobjoog reported that three options were most likely to be considered:
- Expanded Electorate Option: an undetermined amount of voters would serve as an “electoral college” that would select 275 MPs, possibly nominated by political parties;
- Federal State Option: regional administrations — through some process — will select MPs;
- District Option: each district in Somalia would select a number of MPs allocated to it.
Any format’s legitimacy will hinge upon whether all stakeholders believe the number of MPs is fairly shared among clans, electorates, federal states, or districts. The credibility also will depend on the successful incorporation of women and youth, who often lose political capital to clan elders in electoral processes.
According to Goobjoog, members of parliament reportedly wanted to include a fifth option of extending the government’s mandate, which probably would be the least tolerable outcome and represent an indictment on the lack of political progress at the national level since 2012.
Obstacles to Regional Consultations
UNSOM’s final remarks reminded Somali stakeholders that the next step in the NCF process was to hold meetings in each regional administration to get input on what election format is acceptable and possible:
“In doing so, you have set the stage for the regional consultations and you are informing the wider public of the process that is unfolding now. That in itself is an important step.” -UNSOM’s Raisedon Zenenga
The time frame to complete regional consultations by December 2015 is very short. But Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke stated that the meetings would take place simultaneously “to ensure complete fairness and transparency of the process”, and this may also help consultations be completed in a timely fashion as well.
Another obstacle to completing the consultations on time may be the Somali government’s desire to finish forming regional administrations. Somalia’s information minister said this week that it would form the last interim regional administration (a merger of Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle) “before December”. However, the Somali government probably would be challenged to plan and execute both statebuilding and multiple electoral conferences simultaneously.
Thirdly, the Somali government and international community has yet to acknowledge the degree to which Ethiopia-backed Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) has “been marginalized” or “could act as a spoiler”, depending on the perspective, in the NCF process. ASWJ’s Galgaduud-based faction claimed it was not invited to the most recent proceedings in Mogadishu, and the group probably is set reject any further outcomes unless a compromise is reached.
Elections in the Disputed Territories
There has been little conversation about how the NCF will address representation in Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 but is not recognized as such, or in the disputed Sanaag and Sool regions for elections next year.
Interestingly, Puntland briefly arrested Somaliland election officials near the Puntland-controlled town of Badhan last week. The election officials, who were in the area for an awareness campaign for Somaliland’s own delayed electoral process, were eventually released and left for Somaliland-controlled Erigavo.
This incident highlights how Puntland and Somaliland are not only fighting over boundaries, but specifically the right to incorporate communities into their respective voting electorates.
This has significant implications for whether the international community recognizes the electoral boundaries as defined by Somaliland (which will not recognize participation by communities within its claimed borders) or Puntland (which has continued to defend its claimed boundaries in a federal Somalia.)
The NCF has not enunciated publicly how it will address this riddle wrapped in an enigma just yet, but it cannot simply be ignored.