The calculated scheme of the leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) elected in 2012 to disregard the fulfilment of the constitutionally mandated arrangements for a transparent, free, and fair national election in 2016 has paid off as they become empowered by the International Community (IC) to device fraudulent, undemocratic electoral process that suits their rapacious ambitions for staying in power (reelection). The formation of unaccountable federal member states (FMS) and the creation of the Somali National Leadership Forum (NLF) composed of 8 leaders – 4 leaders of the FGS (the president, Speaker, Prime Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister), and 4 presidents of FMS (Puntland, Galmudug, Jubbaland, and Southwest) in violation of the provisional constitution have facilitated the gaming of democratic political election supposed to allow the Somali citizens to toss out rulers who governed badly.
On the basis of Garowe Agreement on 2016 electoral model and process, signed between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the Government of Puntland State on April 3, and on the recommendations of a High Level Consultation meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on April 6-7, members of the NLF held a meeting in Mogadishu for the adoption of comprehensive electoral implementation plan. The Communiqué of the meeting restated the main points made in Garowe Agreement and Nairobi consultation. However, the flaws of the electoral implementation plan are described below.
The NLF has no constitutional legitimacy to legislate or regulate political elections in Somalia; but the Garowe Agreement says that, “The International Community recognizes the central role of the National Leadership Forum in ensuring that the national interest is protected and promoted, and the role of parliament in underpinning the rule of law and protecting the Constitution.” The interpretation of the quoted statement is not clear, but it could be construed as saying that the decisions of the NLF are not subject to parliamentary review or they could not be protested by the public. Most significantly, the implementation of Garowe Agreement is guaranteed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), specifically Ethiopia. Thus, Garowe Agreement is subject to international relation and law. I hope Somali experts on international law will express legal opinion on the agreements between the federal government and regional states guaranteed by foreign governments or organizations.
The NLF members who are either incumbents seeking reelection or sponsoring their allies took control of the political oversight of 2016 election and misappropriated the powers (1) to appoint all members of federal and regional electoral committees, (2) to restrict public participation in the election, and (3) to validate the legitimacy of elected candidates. The federal and regional electoral committees will work under the direction and supervision of NLF. This is not a democratic political election.
The Flaws of 2016 Electoral Implementation Plan
Selection of the Electorate: The implementation plan indicates that 135 traditional leaders registered in 2012 will select 50 electorate for each parliamentary seat in consultation with sub clan traditional leaders. In anticipation of this decision, the federal government has instigated leadership disputes within some clans in order to replace the traditional leaders seen as not reliable allies of the government against the interests of their clans. Therefore, the federal government should not be allowed to handle any dispute over traditional leaders. Clan constituencies have the primary responsibility for standing behind their genuine traditional leaders.
Political Exclusion: Benadir region is excluded from the NLF and the Upper House of the federal parliament representing federal member states. Similarly, the political participation of the population living in Benadir is up in the air. No explanation has been provided for this outrageous political exclusion.
Scandals and Meltdown of Hiran and Middle Shabelle State Formation Process. No representative of Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions is member of NLF. As a result of the federal government’s game plan to install its loyalists in power in Hiran and Middle Shabelle State, the process of state formation is mired by scandals and abuses that led to paralysis and acrimonious political confrontation. The international community is fully aware of the scandals and reasons behind the meltdown but decided to close eyes and push for the declaration and celebration of federal member state at any cost.
Creation of Upper House of the federal Parliament: The Federal Parliament has suspended in 2012 all articles of the provisional constitution related to the Upper House of the Federal Parliament. The NLF restored the Upper House without parliamentary action. The responsibilities and powers of the Upper House vis-à-vis the house of the people are yet to be outlined.
The distribution of the 54 seats of the Upper House to the federal member states is seen as baseless and conflict-ridden. What is more difficult is how to maintain clan balance in the Upper House seats.
The NLF authorizes the executive branch of the FMS (the presidents) to submit the Upper House candidates to the state parliament for voting. However, the winners must get the signature of FMS Presidents for joining the Upper House. This could entail hurdles and conflicts.
The selection of candidates for Upper House by the FMS executives is wrong and candidates must be allowed to present their candidacy to an electoral committee independent from executive and local parliament but subject to the monitoring of credible mechanisms supported by international team. The parliament must offer equal opportunity to all candidates for presentation of their qualifications for eligibility followed by secret ballot.
Limitation of public participation in the political process: The Somali civil society has recommended an electorate composed of 100 to 200 voters for each seat of the federal parliament. The maximum total number of electorate would be 55,000 out of 13 million people. In contrast, the NLF wanted to restrict public political participation below 50 in order to control the electorate through patronage, corruption, exclusion, and all other reprehensible tactics. This is an obstacle to the expansion of public participation in the political process. The international community should ally with the civil society proposal and not with NLF. The number of electorate for each seat should not be less than 100 voters. This is one of the critical measures against widespread corruption.
Number of contestants for each seat. NLF did not explicitly said the number of contestants for each seat but confirmed that it will decide later. It would be appropriate that the number of contestants is open and candidates will be eliminated through voting process or inter-constituency negotiations.
The suggestion that each candidate must pay US$ 5,000 represents and impediment for many potential local competitors. This amount should not be more than US$ 1,000.
Federal State Election committees: The NLF gave itself the power to nominate the members of 2016 election committees. The past experience shows that committees appointed by the federal or state governments are filled with loyalists. It is necessary that civil society members, media personalities, social organizations, businesses communities, political activists, university leaders, Youth advocates, and religious groups are delegated to organize and manage the process of selecting members of electoral committees.
Dispute Resolution Committees: NLF wants to appoint dispute conflict resolution committees. This is another measure to manipulate the process in favor of NLF members. Independent and opposition forces must participate in the nomination process of members of the election dispute resolution committees.
Venue of election: NLF limits the venues in six cities. Each constituency must be able to express its preference for the location where it should elect its representative(s) in cooperation with an independent election committees. The safety and security of the venues is a primary condition. The federal government cannot limit venues and public participation for self-serving excuses. Constituencies must be given opportunities to decide the preferable venues through democratic process.
Quota for Women: To avoid gender conflicts within the Somali society, it is critical that the quota for women is separate and contested among women candidates. Alternatively, women should participate equally in the contest to the seats allocated to their constituencies. The 30 % allocation of federal parliament to women should not be used to wage social division within the Somali society.
Vetting Process: The experience from 2012 confirms that the vetting process of government appointed committees at national and state levels is used for exclusion and obstruction. The absence of electoral law applied by a court increases the likelihood of abuse of the vetting process. Accountability and transparency for the vetting process are necessary.
Omitted Issues: The electoral implementation plan omitted the discussion of the issue of access and use of public resources and media by incumbents for reelection purpose. Another important issue is the prevention of government abuse of power, restriction of freedom of expression and assembly for deceptive reasons, expected to pervade the 2016 election. Guidelines on the role of security and intelligence forces, attorney general, and judiciary in the 2016 election should be part of the electoral implementation plan.
Public Discontent and Reaction
The backing of the IC to fraudulent, undemocratic electoral implementation plan has surprised many Somalis and observers of the international engagement in Somalia. The IC position conflicts with the UN guidelines on democracy and political election. Somalis expressed their frustration, dismay and criticisms over the electoral plan through Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), local media and websites. The lack of government response and accountability to the public discontent erodes public commitment to the political and security stability in Somalia.
It is noteworthy that the Garowe Agreement reveals the strong suspicion of regional state leaders against the leaders of the federal government for rigging the 2016 electoral process through corruption and unfair practices. Therefore, the Agreement commits the international community to monitor the implementation of the 2016 electoral model and process to ensure fairness and transparency. Disappointedly, this commitment has not been applied to the development of the electoral implementation plan.
Somalia cries for free and fair electoral process which offers equal opportunities among participants in the political process and competition. Reconsideration of the endorsed electoral implementation plan is imperative for conducting free and fair election. Incumbent leaders should not be condoned or allowed to manipulate the electoral process to their advantage. The IC should not back incumbent controlled election.
Mr. Mohamud M Uluso