This week, the Somali government and Puntland agreed on a basic framework for elections. The deal comes after months of disagreement between the government and regional leaders on how Somalia could hold a transition process at the end of the government’s mandate this year after the efforts to implement a one person-one vote system were put on hold.
The internationally-backed agreement lays out some (but not all) of the details on how Somalia will elect its next parliament, whose members are to choose the next president.
Basics of the Deal
- Traditional elders will select members of regional electoral colleges, which must be approved by the regional and federal electoral committees;
- Clan candidates for the Lower House (LH) of the federal parliament will compete for votes of electoral college members at processes in the regional capitals;
- The yet to be formed Upper House (UH) will be established before the Lower House;
- The Somali government and regional leaders will decide on where to hold presidential elections and where to situate the Lower and Upper Houses of parliament.
There is still substantial bureaucracy to the process. Even though Somalia’s 2016 transition plan does not employ a one person-one vote (OPOV) system, it will still be difficult to maintain a political consensus on how to move forward on many technical tasks that have yet to be defined. For example, there is no date or timeline on when any of these processes will occur before the government’s mandate ends later this year. This speaks volumes about the amount of work that needs to be done.
As a result, there is still a risk the transition process will be delayed unless stakeholders have a laser-like focus in the aftermath of what international diplomats have hailed as a “historic” deal.
Democratic Elections in 2020?
Under the agreement, Somalia is to never hold a national political election using the 4.5 clan formula and is to implement an OPOV electoral system in 2020.
This is an ambitious clause that would require Somalia to exponentially increase progress on political and technical tasks in the next four years, despite very slow and contentious efforts to form federal states and review the provisional constitution in the last four years.
Holding OPOV elections in part requires a census to get details on the voting population, voter education and registration, and a consensus among federal and regional political leaders on elections laws and protocols.
When the international community funded a population estimation survey in October 2014, virtually every regional leader rejected the data as “too low” for their region — probably because each region’s size would have huge implications for its potential political power under an eventual OPOV system. The fight over a proper census would be even more contested, and this is only one part of a complex multi-faceted process to implement OPOV.
For further perspective, since Puntland’s establishment in 1998, the region has never held OPOV elections and a combination of violence, spoilers, and technical glitches detailed attempts to do so for local polls in 2013. There are not many strong indications that Puntland has made significant progress in being able to use OPOV for local or regional elections by the time President Abdiweli Gaas’s term ends in 2019.
Therefore, it is interesting that the Somali government is ostensibly bound with the expectation that it should be able to hold nationwide OPOV in a matter of years. In any case, there are other electoral options besides the 4.5 system and OPOV, and those certainly should be explored between now and 2020.
It would be a mistake to repeat the folly of the late military dictator Siad Barre in “banning” clannism on paper while it continued to be used so strongly in practice. Somalia’s electoral system should take into account how communities would like to address the importance of fair clan representation and the ability to vote in a system that embraces non-clan related values.
Choosing the Upper House
The new election agreement states that Puntland’s executive branch will nominate the region’s Upper House candidates, who are to be approved by the regional parliament. This gives the Puntland president ultimate power over who can serve as an UH representative for the region.
However, in the model initially proposed by the Somali government and international community, it did not specify how regional presidents would have control of the Upper House selection process. It simply stated:
“Members of the Upper House of Parliament should be elected by the caucuses of the regional assemblies in each existing and emerging Federal member state.”
As a result, it is a big question whether other regional leaders will seek the same power. On one hand, an Upper House composed of members that have strong affiliation with regional leadership may help federal laws to be implemented at the regional level — something that is not occurring at the moment.
Nevertheless, the regional leaders’ monopoly on nominating UH members may change as Somalia’s electoral process evolves.
The importance of the regional parliament in this process also highlights how the Somali government must move forward with the last state formation conference for Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions, which continues to be stalled. If the Hiiraan-Middle Shabelle regions cannot form an administration and regional parliament soon, it will only complicate Somalia’s ability to complete the alternative election model in those regions.
Where is the Seat of Government?
For years, there has been an intensifying debate about whether Somalia’s capital should be in Mogadishu or another city. The provisional constitution states this is an issue that “shall be determined in the constitutional review process” and later enacted into law by parliament.
Last week, debate over the capital reached a new high point as a Hawiye clan figure declared that Mogadishu “belongs” to the Hawiye clan. The statement presumably was to contest the notion that local power-sharing should be implemented using the 4.5 formula because it is — or could be — a “federal” region where all Somali communities could seek representation in local political positions.
This is an especially sensitive topic because part of the legacy of the Somali civil war was the damage to Mogadishu’s cosmopolitan nature. Certain clans left their lives and property in Mogadishu when they became the target of violence. Retrieving that property continues to be an issue today. As a result, the comments on who “owns” Mogadishu sparked a political outrage, even though Somali politicians regularly pepper their speech with controversial rhetoric against certain communities.
So, despite the huge polemics over the capital and the fact that the provisional constitution says the issue belongs to the constitutional review process, the topic of where the federal parliament sits is implied to be part of the election deal between Puntland and the Somali government. The agreement states:
“The Federal Government of Somalia and the Government of Puntland recommend that the National Leadership Forum decide the location of the elections of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia and the Leadership of the Upper House and Lower House of the Parliament by choosing a safe and conducive location.”
When it is still a huge uncertainty on whether this transition process will happen at all, it seems impractical to throw such a controversial agenda item on the negotiation table, especially since the status of the capital probably cannot be settled before the end of the year. The fact that Banaadir region still has not been afforded any representation in the Upper House like other regions only raises the stakes between stakeholders inside and outside of Mogadishu.
The new electoral deal is certainly not a law and probably is not a binding agreement. Supporters of Puntland and the Somali government respectively may cheer the points of the deal that are in line with their own interests, but the history of internationally-backed Somali agreements shows us that they are merely temporary frameworks and band-aids to get from crisis to crisis.
For example, in August 2013, the Addis Ababa agreement laid out several compromises between the Jubaland administration and the Somali government on how they would share the power to appoint regional leadership and control ports, among other issues.
Almost three years later, there is little effort to enforce many of the unimplemented points, such as Jubaland transferring management of the ports to the Somali government. In addition, subsequent and separate talks to reconcile other parties with the Jubaland administration under different terms highlight how the Addis Ababa agreement was not meant to be a long-term framework. The same should be expected from this most recent political deal — especially in regard to how future elections may play out in Somalia.