Last week, the federal government of Somalia (FGS) published its plan for a 2016 election format after the effort to institute one person-one vote polls was deferred to 2020.
The FGS released a communique at the conclusion of the most recent round of negotiations that acknowledged the absence of a consensus but underscored the need to move forward with a plan for elections.
The model outlines how Somalia will proceed with re-electing the Lower House and forming the yet-to-be-established Upper House. According to the provisional constitution, the next president will be elected by a joint vote between the Lower and Upper Houses of parliament.
The plan calls for 275 parliamentarians in the Lower House of parliament to be selected using the 4.5 clan formula. It also proposed the assemblies of the regional administrations select six members each for the 54-seat Upper House, with Puntland and self-declared independent Somaliland (which certainly will not participate in the process) receiving three extra seats each. Both houses would have a 30% quota for women.
What is a Fair Election Model?
The political solidarity between Jubaland and Puntland on the election issue is mostly steady, as Jubaland reluctantly accepted the FGS model but criticized the international community and FGS for “forcing” the agreement on Somali leaders.
Puntland also rejected the FGS model due to the use of the 4.5 clan formula. Puntland still desires Somalia’s districts to select representatives. However, this plan may not be more fair than the roundly criticized 4.5 clan formula, which clearly discriminates against traditionally marginalized clans.
Ostensibly under Puntland’s plan, each of Somalia’s 92 districts would choose three representatives each, giving the Lower House 276 parliamentarians, or one more than the current 275. However, there are several questions that should be asked about this model.
Firstly: Districts would receive the same amount of representation — regardless of the size of the district. Communities comprised of a handful of settlements would have the same political voice as bustling urban areas. This would be an unconventional and unfair electoral structure in terms of global democratic standards for a country’s lower legislative house.
Even if Puntland proposed to create a new formula that would give larger districts more representation than smaller districts, it is highly unlikely Somali leaders could agree on the exact numbers in a timely manner given the current political climate.
More importantly, a proper nation-wide census — which has not been conducted in decades — would yield key data that could help to determine how to divide Somalia’s constituencies into electoral districts. But, population estimation data released in October 2014 was outright rejected by virtually every Somali regional leader, highlighting the high stakes around the business of counting constituencies during a time in which the country is trying to shift from clan-based political representation to one person-one vote.
Secondly, Puntland’s model would have to address how to account for political representation in Banaadir region, which includes Mogadishu. The FGS model excludes political participation for Banaadir in the region-based Upper House, potentially because it wants to maintain political and fiscal dominance over the Banaadir administration, which has made consistent complaints to the FGS regarding its failure to share power and local tax revenue.
If Puntland’s model diverged from the FGS and offered representation to Banaadir region, there would be questions whether Mogadishu would receive seats among district representatives in the Lower House or Upper House.
If it was the former, it would be important to determine whether each of Mogadishu’s 17 districts would also get three representatives each (51 total) in the Lower House as part of Puntland’s district-based proposal. This would require a further increase in the number of parliamentarians in the Lower House, but it would also be a difficult political deal to sell to some regional leaders because it would significantly boost Banaadir’s political prominence versus other regions. Additionally, giving Banaadir seats in the Upper House would involve expanding its size or taking seats away from another region.
In any case, both the FGS and district-based model face difficult questions about the inclusion of Banaadir region that should not be ignored.
Thirdly, Puntand’s model would mean that a broad number of influential communities in each district would compete for only three seats, which would raise the political stakes such that “minority” communities almost certainly would receive no more representation — and possibly less — than what they receive in the 4.5 clan system. In this way, the district-based model would be the 4.5 clan system by another name.
A 5.0 clan formula, where marginalized clans would receive as much representation as other clans, may be more “fair” than a 4.5 clan formula in the absence of direct elections, but National Consultative Forum delegates probably have not seriously considered this as an option to date.
As Somali leaders continue to debate which election model is more “fair” for 2016, the benefits and drawbacks of each plan as outlined above should be discussed transparently in order to address misconceptions about the fairness and practicality of each plan. Stakeholders in the country are unfortunately left to pick from a set of imperfect options, begging the last question: is any political transition process — even one seen as only partially legitimate — better than a mandate extension?
Many political observers may say “yes,” but the imperfect pill is still a jagged one to swallow.