Election officials in the capital Mogadishu announced this week they were pushing back elections from October to November due to security issues and administrative problems.
The four-year term of Somalia’s first internationally recognised government in over 25 years comes to an end in 2016. Somali elections do not look like any other election in the world, representing instead a hybrid of traditional and modern, selection and election, fierce debate and pragmatic compromise. Sagal Absir takes a closer look at the dynamics.
1. The contest:
The 275-member parliament is up for grabs, and a new 54-member Upper House will be constituted. Together, the two houses will elect the president. The Somali president has always been elected indirectly, including in the 1964 and 1967 elections and the transitional processes since 2000. The president appoints a prime minister who sets up a cabinet.
The current parliament’s term ends on 20 August 2016, and the president’s on 10 September 2016. Observers are expecting a few months’ slippage, although anything longer could lead to political unrest and constitutional dilemmas that could threaten to undo the last 12 years of Somalia’s painstaking political progress.
2. The players:
Aside from the incumbent, Somali presidential contenders rarely openly declare their candidacy until a few weeks before the date of the election. There are no real political parties and so each contender appeals directly to parliamentarians (with all the implications that entails). The box overleaf has a rundown of current and past office-holder political heavyweights who have either publicly declared they will seek the presidency or whom observers speculate will run. Nevertheless, a political track record is no guarantee – the current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was a civil society figure with no political background who yet managed to snatch the top seat from the incumbent last time.
Many more presidential aspirants will appear when the election details are finalised and the date is set – the presidential field could expand to as many as 20 contenders. (The first round of the 2012 presidential contest had 22 aspirants.)
3. The playing field:
The 2016 elections were supposed to be general elections, with Somalia’s approximately 12 million people having the opportunity to vote directly for their MPs. It was only in mid-2015 that analysts, diplomats, and finally, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud himself admitted that general direct elections would not be possible in 2016 – despite constitutional requirements and the president’s early promises in Vision 2016, and to the bitter disappointment of many Somalis.
A proposed term extension to give him time to get the country ready (i.e., to conduct a census, create voter districts, craft political parties legislation, and set up an independent electoral commission) met with stiff opposition, both domestically and internationally.
Instead, an alternative process is being debated and negotiated by a newly convened National Leadership Forum, made up of the president, the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the parliamentary speaker; and the four state presidents of Puntland State, Jubbaland State, Southwest State and Galmudug State.
In addition to the president, who has declared that he will seek a second term, observers speculate that this leadership group includes at least two potential presidential candidates and more would-be kingmakers, giving them the unique (and somewhat problematic) opportunity to influence the rules of the game.
4. The faultlines:
Because of the failure to develop voting districts, the question of how parliamentary seats would be apportioned remained open. Bitter debates took place in late 2015 and early 2016 about whether a new district-based system needed to be quickly developed, or whether the country should continue to use the “4.5 Formula” – a clan-quota power-sharing formula developed as a reconciliation tool in 2000 and that has been used in the formation of every Somali parliament since then, including the 2012 one.
The formula assigns one in four seats to each of the four major Somali clans with half of one seat to go to minority clans.
14,025 citizens will vote, unlike last time when only 135 elders appointed the parliamentarians.
These arguments exposed the underlying tension in the Somali electoral landscape: a shift away from clan-based quotas to voter districts would alter the share of seats held by different clans, resulting in some clans getting more than they would under the 4.5 Formula, and others getting less.
The outcome has been the retention of the 4.5 Formula for now, and a grudging acceptance that Somali politics is not ready for a new set of winners and losers just yet. Somali political actors had to pragmatically accept that this particular issue needs to be kicked down the road and deferred to the next administration and the 2020 election.
5. The vote:
The National Leadership Forum finally agreed on a way forward in April 2016. The 275 seats of the Lower House of parliament will be apportioned using the 4.5 Formula, allocated as follows: 61 seats to each of the four major clans, and the remaining 31 seats shared by the minority clans. Within each clan, there are complex formulas to further apportion the seats amongst the sub-clans and sub-sub-clans. In 2012, 135 of Somalia’s traditional elders were called upon to give out those seats, a process that turned out to be easily manipulated by aspiring politicians. This year, in an attempt at “enhanced democracy”, each elder will be asked to convene a group of 51 members of his clan to vote for each of the 275 seats.
This means that 14,025 Somali citizens will have a chance to vote, unlike last time when only 135 elders appointed the parliamentarians. The hope is that it will be much harder for the aspiring politicians to provide financial or other incentives to a delegate pool of thousands.
Another difference from 2012 is that the process will not take place solely in Mogadishu. The elders and delegates will convene across the country, in Garowe, Kismayo, Baidoa and Adaado, thereby adding a small element of geographical representation as the 275 seats are now being “anchored” in different parts of the country.
The logistical and operational setup required to host 275 separate mini-elections bringing together 14,000+ people across 4-5 cities, and keep them safe, is not in place – this will certainly push the August/September date further out.
6. And the Upper House?
Somalia’s Provisional Federal Constitution adopted in August 2012 envisioned a bicameral parliament, with a 54-member Upper House representing the federal member states. However, in 2012, only one federal member state existed (Puntland), necessitating therefore the postponement of the Upper House.
In the last four years, however, through intensely political and sometimes violent processes, three new federal member states have been created – Jubbaland State, Southwest State and Galmudug State. One more state is in the works, which when it is completed, will finalise the new federal map of Somalia.
The National Leadership Forum negotiations have apportioned the 54 seats as follows: 8 seats each for Jubbaland State, Southwest State, Galmudug State and the soon-to-be-completed state; and 11 seats each for Puntland and Somaliland (in recognition of their political status and maturity). The 54 members of the Upper House will be appointed directly by the states. The state president will propose at least two candidates for each seat, and the state parliaments or assemblies will vote for each seat individually. Also, regarding timing, the new Upper House must be established before the Lower House.
A contentious omission is Mogadishu’s representation in the Upper House. As the national capital, Mogadishu does not fall under any state but is still fighting for the right to appoint some Upper House members.
7. What about Somaliland?
In the north-west of the country, Somaliland has been seeking independence since 1991 and Somaliland authorities have almost no formal contact with Somalia. That said, since the Somali national government is formed on clan quotas, the clans resident in Somaliland have been represented in all Somali parliaments since 2000, and even in the Executive branch (for example, the current deputy prime minister).
The Lower House selection/election process will likely proceed with the traditional elders playing their same role and identifying “pro-union” delegates to participate in the mini-elections at a venue outside Somaliland territory as yet unidentified. However, the Upper House poses a new challenge as the members are to be appointed by the federal member states – and Somaliland does not consider itself a member state of the Somali Federal Republic.
Meanwhile, Somaliland authorities will continue to chart their own path and prepare for their own elections in 2017. Notably, Somaliland has succeeded in holding several rounds of one-person-one-vote elections since 1991 and attained a reputation of being a beacon of democracy in an undemocratic neighbourhood.
8. The 30% quota for women:
The National Leadership Forum has confirmed that 30% of seats in the Upper and Lower Houses will be reserved for women candidates. Also, the 51 delegates voting for each Lower House parliamentarian will need to be made up of at least 30% women. A similar 30% quota for women’s representation was not met in 2012 – only about 14% of the current parliament is made up of women (compared with 20% in Kenya, 13% in Djibouti and 39% in Ethiopia, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union). This year, there seems to be more determination to meet the quota, with firm promises from the NLF and exhortations from the international community.
However, Somali traditional elders are notoriously reluctant to have women represent the clan, and actual mechanisms to reserve specific seats for women have not yet been developed. There is, however, the hope that the introduction of the 51 voting delegates will loosen the stranglehold of patriarchy.
9. Who are the referees?
The National Leadership Forum has devised a two-level election implementation and monitoring system. A 17-member Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) and multiple 11-member State Electoral Implementation Teams (SEITs) will be jointly appointed by the federal and state governments to implement and oversee the electoral process. Again, critics point out that potential presidential candidates are engaged in appointing the watchdogs.
Moreover, the first FEIT appointed included cabinet ministers and MPs seeking reelection. The ensuing domestic and international uproar led to reappointment of the 17 members – the new FEIT no longer includes active politicians, but there are still concerns that the new appointees are not entirely independent.
While there is no organised opposition, a 50-member group of Somali parliamentarians, academics, politicians, activists and civil society actors (including some potential presidential candidates) have organised themselves into a National Citizens Platform and issued a July 2016 declaration calling for “integrity proposals” such as further vetting of electoral committees to ensure neutrality, mechanisms to deter corruption, a chance to have a say in a proposed Dispute Resolution Mechanism, and the presence of international election monitors at voting localities.
10. Is there a threat of violence?
Yes. There is a real threat that the election processes could be targeted by al-Shabaab, who continue to declare themselves an enemy to the Somali government. Despite offensive operations carried out by AMISOM and the Somali forces, the past four years have seen al-Shabaab continue to conduct terrorist-style suicide bombings and attacks, targeting the presidential complex, the parliament, the intelligence headquarters, the protected zone at the airport, the UN compound, hotels in Mogadishu, and attacking state capitals such as Garowe and Baidoa, as well as AMISOM bases. Also noteworthy, over the past four years, 18 MPs and one minister have been killed in al-Shabaab attacks.
AMISOM will be called on to contribute to the overall security situation in election towns where they are located – Mogadishu, Kismayo and Baidoa. Security in Garowe and Adaado will be provided by Puntland State and Galmudug State security forces, respectively.
11. The cost:
The Somali government is broke. The national budget for the fiscal year 2015-2016 was only $216m. In comparison, international development and humanitarian aid to Somalia hovered around $1bn in 2015 (excluding security spending), and the Somali diaspora remittances to family members are estimated at about $2bn a year.
The government therefore relies heavily on support from international partners, and the expectation, and hope, is that the international community will foot the bill of this election process. Preliminary estimates from the Office of the Prime Minister put the cost at over $20m, while international partners estimate a total cost of $14m, with half of that going to security arrangements.
International partners insist that the Somali government needs to contribute. Aspiring candidates will therefore be charged a registration fee of $5,000 for the Lower House and $10,000 for the Upper. With at least two aspirants for each seat, this could generate close to $4m. The registration fee for presidential candidates has not yet been set.
12. What is at stake?
The next four years will be important for Somalia. In addition to preparing the country for general direct elections in 2020, the new administration will need to complete the Provisional Federal Constitution and organise a general referendum for formal adoption. The battle against al-Shabaab will need to be continued, with serious efforts to extend national and state government authority to all the ungoverned parts of the country. AMISOM is seeking an exit plan and already talking about potential troop withdrawals starting in 2018 – an effective Somali national army and solid police institutions will need to be developed. And finally, a solution must be sought for the rift with Somaliland.