Power Struggles Hamper Anti-Corruption Efforts in Somalia Elections

Somalia’s National Leadership Forum (NLF) is expected to make a series of important decisions that will address disputes in the electoral process and ultimately delay the presidential vote for a fourth time.

To date, the process has been marred by vote buying, nepotism, and sporadic violence although some analysts have noted some of its positive contributions.

Among the important decisions that are expected to be reached include:

[1] delaying the date for selecting a president for a fourth time to 22 January 2017

[2] raising the registration fee for presidential candidates from $10,000 in 2012 to $30,000

[3] mandating that presidential candidates have the support of at least 20 parliamentarians

[4] transferring a Senate seat from Somaliland to Puntland to account for clan representation in Sanaag region allied to Puntland (Note: After multiple formulas had been considered for deciding how to compose the Upper House, the NLF previously decided it would give three extra seats to Puntland and Somaliland. However, Puntland later requested for Somaliland’s allocation to reserve seats for specific clans in the disputed border regions.)

[5] nullifying the decision of the Independent Electoral Dispute Resolution Mechanism (IEDRM) to cancel 11 out of 67 parliamentary results where there were complaints about corruption and other forms of interference

The $30,000 registration fee for presidential candidate is three times as large as the $10,000 figure set in 2012 — where there was the usual cornucopia of aspirant leaders. It contrasts with this year’s parliamentary races that took specific measures to make it easier for women to apply for seats by cutting the $3,000 fee in half for female candidates.

The high price also discourages participation from those who simply want to include Former Presidential Candidate in their resume without conducting meaningful efforts to script a substantive policy platform. As a result, there may not be as many election speeches from candidates like Salad Ali Jeele — who add more levity and laughter than suspense about their prospects for victory.

On the other hand, the $30,000 requirement means candidates must more than ever focus on amassing large sums of money from foreign donors in order to buy influence among parliamentarians that will select the president (via Foreign Policy):

“One consequence of the country’s expanded electorate and new upper house of Parliament is that, given the lack of strong political parties, winning alliances will be much more expensive to build. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey have happily picked up the tab, welcoming the parade of Somali politicians shuttling among their capitals on discreet fundraising trips in recent months.”

According to the international community, failure to address vote buying and other improprieties would undermine the legitimacy of the next government and directly play into al-Shabaab’s narrative about the illegitimacy of Somali politics:

“The NLF should reach a decision on the disputed seats in the House of the People in a prompt and fair manner that is broadly acceptable to the people of Somalia and the international community,” said Michael Keating, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Somalia.

Any attempt to gloss over the irregularities that plagued some of the voting will not only affect the acceptability of the outcome of the electoral process and compromise the legitimacy of the anticipated new government, but also play into the hands of spoilers and violent extremists bent on discrediting a process that has already achieved greater inclusiveness and more women’s representation in Somali politics.”

Somalia’s partners were right to note how this could impact 2020 elections, regardless of whether subsequent polls employ a one person-one vote or elite-driven system. The fact that an ad hoc body in the NLF would desire to “nullify” the decision of an “independent” body without any clear protocol is not a framework from which the country can hold a more complex type of election.

– Checks and Balances +

The lack of checks and balances between authorities continues to hamper efforts to address electoral discrepancies.

[1] Regional leaders do not always adhere to federal directives.

Federal level election bodies have had mixed results in executing their authority over regional administrations.

In October, the federal election commission demanded all regional administrations (except for Southwest) resubmit their slate of candidates for the Upper House selection process because the submissions would not give them an opportunity to meet the quota for female representatives.

Regional administrations actually obliged to the directive, unlike other recent instances such as when regional leaders refused to abide by the federal government’s temporary ban on khat imports from Kenya.

However, in December, the Hir-Shabelle regional election commission allowed a candidate — who was disqualified by the federal election commission for inciting violence during an election vote — to contest for the seat when the race resumed. He ultimately defeated his rival in the race in what the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) called a “surprise development.”

The state electoral team for the Somaliland contingent similarly disregarded the federal election commission’s proposed timeline for electing the region’s parliamentarians as they sifted through elders’ complaints about the process.

[2] Federal-level independent commissions are not perceived as objective.

The internationally community has been a strong public supporter of the federal election commission and the IEDRM, which has probably given these organizations at least some political capital to leverage against elites.

However, the IEDRM  has been working under a unique challenge. It previously announced it had received over 1,200 election-related complaints but ultimately only cancelled 11 races out of the 67 cases it formally reviewed.

The multitude of anomalies arguably could have resulted in dozens more nullifications – especially considering the volume of complaints. But that would have resulted in the need to re-contest a large number of races and delay Somali elections even further — a scenario that would counter the international community’s goal of concluding polls as soon as possible.

More importantly, VOA reporter Harun Maruf noted the perceived interference the IEDRM had received from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in regard to avoiding nullification of races involving his allies.

Thus, the IEDRM was trying to carry out its mandate with two hands tied behind its back.

[3] No Permanent Domestic Authority to Adjudicate National Disputes

In this context, it would be helpful to have a higher legal authority advise elites on deconflicting their collective concerns. But there is no domestic institutional body to adjudicate between the various “independent” ad hoc commissions, regional leaders, and federal authorities.

The Somali High Court continues to lack credibility among elites as a forum for debating national disputes, despite its technical designation as the top legal body. This credibility gap would almost certainly apply to the constitutional court — which was mandated by the provisional constitution but has yet to be formed.

As a result, the international community has served as the legal adjudicator during efforts to end disputes over the formation of regional states and elections. (See cases on Jubaland, Southwest, and Galmudug.)

Establishing a legitimate and widely respected domestic legal authority to negotiate between regional and federal institutions will be required, or else foreign diplomats will be left to certify electoral processes in 2020 and all other national disputes until then.

Finally, while the National Leadership Forum is a useful ad hoc tool for the moment, its decisions are based on political expediency rather than legal evaluation and jurisprudence. Somalia cannot develop rule of law through a hazy decision-making process among a few elites.

Another Way

Could Somali politicians give up pay-for-play political practices cold Turkey (no pun intended)?

That is what the IEDRM could do if it was sufficiently empowered and objective to nullify every case of substantive illegality. However, the IEDRM does not have the political capital to facilitate that kind of monumental shift.

An alternative would have been to successfully prosecute a slew of graft cases leading up to elections to show that the practice would not be tolerated during the selection process.

Unfortunately, there was no such crackdown and little evidence that graft, bribery, and nepotism would be put out to pasture.  So, of course, these practices carried into the parliamentary races.

It could not be expected that corruption could all of a sudden be addressed during the most important political process in the last four years, as it would represent some impressive selective outrage.

The international community’s top concerns for Somali elections appear to revolve around an impossible trinity — to borrow the term from international economics — in which maintaining two desired objectives make it impossible to secure a third desired goal. In this case, the objectives include ensuring that elections [1] are secure from violence, [2] meet deadlines, and [3] produce credible results.

Somalia is approaching its fourth delay of the proposed date to elect a new president, and the battle will likely continue between the aforementioned elements of timeliness and credibility as the NLF and international community engage in a “standoff ” about how this election will move forward.

Categories: elections

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