The Rocky Path to 2021 Elections in Somalia

In 2016, when Puntland State signed up to the 2017 enhanced elections on the basis of the 4.5 power-sharing mechanism, an unenforceable but widely accepted principle lay at the heart of the deal: In 2021, one person, one vote elections will replace the infamous 4.5. power-sharing system.

In a tweet, the former Special Representative for Secretary General, Michael Keating, urged Somali leaders to start planning for 2021 elections. Nearly two years after the second post-transition election, Somalia faces three obstacles to enabling Somalis to exercise their suffrage rights.

  Flip-flopping Electoral Commission  

The first obstacle stems from contradictory statements of the National Independent Electoral Commission. Earlier, in 2019, the Chairwoman of the NIEC, Halima Ismail Ibrahim, held a press conference in Mogadishu to drive home the message that one person, one vote elections would not take place in Somalia in 2021. Halima was responding to political party pressures exerted on the Federal Government. Political parties urged the Federal Government of Somalia to publish electoral plans. Two former presidents had registered their parties with the Commission, whereas in February, a former presidential candidate, Abdirahman Abdishakur, opened an office for his party in Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland. 

“There are signs that one person, one vote elections will not take place in Somalia in 2021 under the current political circumstances. Political parties have begun to campaign too early. Somalia has adopted federalism, but a federal government cannot reply upon MPs selected by traditional leaders,” Halima told media representatives.

Five months after that statement, the NIEC Chairwoman held a meeting with two-part leaders that had received temporary registration certificates. While NIEC’s assessment made in March 2019 seemed more realistic, subsequent declarations about planned elections run counter to political realities in Somalia.

NIEC has had consultative meetings with stakeholders in Puntland about how elections will be conducted in Somalia for the first time since 1969, when Somalia conducted one person, one vote elections for a democratically elected government later overthrown by the military.

“Clannish” Political Parties

Most political parties that registered with NIEC are based in Mogadishu. Somali parties have not developed political programmes, nor have they operated as political associations to field-test their ideas in a country that has lived through 9 years of statelessness, twelve years of transition, and is going through the seventh year of the post-transition era, which has a lot in common with the transitional period.

Some of the political parties are popularly known for their appellations, such as Aala Sheikh (led by the former President of the Transitional Federal Government, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed,) and Damul-jadiid (led by the first post-transition President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud).

  Unresolved Territorial Disputes  

The most glaring impediment to one person, one vote revolves around the territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland. Puntland State is a full member of the Federal Government of Somalia. Somaliland has representatives in the federal institutions, MPS, and Senators selected in Mogadishu, but the Hargeisa-based administration claiming to have seceded from Somalia in 1991 does not recognise the Federal Government of Somalia. Federal Government ministers and officials risk arrest if they visit areas under the control of Somaliland administration.

Somaliland Administration conducted elections in parts of the disputed territories that Puntland represents federally in 2010 and 2017. In 2016, The Federal Government of Somalia signed an agreement that entitles Puntland to represent disputed territories at the federal level. Without clarity on the how elections will be conducted in Disputed Territories, Puntland State may not sign up to elections that deprive some of its constituencies of the right to vote.

©  Puntland Post Monthly, 2019