Analysis: Somalia’s President and Opposition Battle for International Support Amid Delayed Elections

On March 8, in a letter to Somalia’s key foreign partners, the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC) demanded the president hand over key powers to the prime minister, alleging Villa Somalia can no longer negotiate a path to holding elections in good faith due to ongoing abuses of power. 

Since reaching an agreement last September on an alternative electoral model in place of a popular vote, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMS) have failed to identify ways to resolve the opposition’s claims that the FGS has monopolized power over federal electoral committees and the electoral process in Gedo and Somaliland regions.

The newest demands are a step down from a CPC proposal last month to replace the current government with a transitional council, highlighting the difficulties the opposition has had in recruiting international support for an alternative to extending the current government’s mandate.  

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” — buoyed by support Turkey and Qatar — has evaded any serious criticism from the international community, despite several controversies of his own, to include:

Meanwhile, the international community (IC) has not amended its monotone advocacy for timely elections in accordance with the September 17 agreement, and it is unclear why it has failed to take a more purposeful stance toward Farmaajo.

Potential reasons behind this include:

  • IC may fear the FGS may leverage its power to declare certain diplomats Persona Non Grata (PNG) as was done to Nicholas Haysom in January 2019 following his criticisms of the FGS
  • Its bandwidth may be stretched by other crises in the region (e.g., war in Tigray, conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan, humanitarian challenges from COVID-19); an incoming US Envoy to the Horn of Africa may help to address this
  • The IC may not find the opposition’s complaints substantive enough to take a partisan stance against Farmaajo; however, allowing Farmaajo such unprecedented control of electoral committees with impunity will have negative ramifications what his successors feel they can do in future elections.

In October 2020, Somalia’s parliament unilaterally extended the mandate of itself and the president. As other analysts have noted, this is the first time in Somalia’s modern history that the government’s mandate has been extended without a political agreement among major stakeholders.

What’s worse — UN Mission in Somalia Special Representative, James Swan, shockingly agreed with the legality of the extension, which had no recognizable constitutional basis and very little domestic political support outside of FGS loyalists.

As the political issues linger, al-Shabaab has continued high-profile attacks and a new surge of COVID-19 cases are ravaging a country where social distancing and other mitigation measures have been difficult to implement.

Politics of Partial Elections

In this context, it may be difficult for the opposition to gain leverage in negotiations with the FGS.

The opposition could choose to boycott elections until their demands are sufficiently met. However, it is highly unlikely the international community would welcome this move, and it would play into Farmaajo’s strategy of portraying his rivals as spoilers.

Would it be possible for the FGS and its allies to select a new government without Puntland, Jubaland and opposition candidates? The answer lies in part in the allocation of parliamentary seats per region and clan politics.

Article 89 of the provisional constitution states, “A minimum of two-thirds (2/3) of the members of each House of the Federal Parliament must be present when electing the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia.”

This means that 183 members of the Lower House (elected by clan representatives in an electoral college) and 36 senators from the Upper House (elected by FMS parliamentarians) would have to be duly elected, inaugurated, and present in order to select the next president.

If the current alliance holds, the FGS and its allies in Galmudug, Southwest, and Hirshabelle could select a maximum of 195 Lower House seats and 35 Upper House seats. (Image credit: Saferworld)

This would meet the mark for quorum in the Lower House but fall short by one seat in the Upper House. This assumes the FGS will not attempt to include 13 Upper House seats for Banaadir region that was part of an unconstitutional Lower House resolution signed by Farmaajo in January.

The second important caveat is that most clans in the respective regions, particularly for the selection of Lower House MPs, would need to be on board for selecting their representatives under an election only among FGS allies.

It is highly likely that several clans currently opposed to the FGS would refuse to take part in the process. They also could claim that the FGS did not use legitimate clan elders to select the electoral college members.

This would compromise the legitimacy of elections and prevent a quorum from being reached in the Lower House.

As a result, the most practical way forward is for the FGS and opposition to find a middle ground to executing elections.

Apart from the opposition’s main demands, this may mean making practical changes to the September 17 agreement, such as decreasing the number of electors and electoral venues.

The IC may have to be more open minded about the sanctity of the September deal and almost certainly will need to take a stronger message to Somali stakeholders, as no domestic political force currently has the same leverage.

Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia

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