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Delayed elections are taking Somalia to the cliff edge

Hiiraan Online Editorial
Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Elections have usually been viewed as an institutional and procedural hallmark of democratic political systems, as well as a key legitimation tool for political systems and elites. However, badly managed elections may facilitate the revival of conflict, as they may be prone to fraud, resulting in significant contestation of results and hence a lack of legitimacy for the new government and its leadership in Somalia. Therefore, the deployment of elections in post-conflict nations like Somalia as a means to consolidate peace is not always straightforward.

The picture has not always been bleak and Somalia held successive indirect elections with the peaceful transfer of power since 2004.

The federal government has broken its promise to hold one-person, one-vote elections as it had pledged to do. The current elections are marked by allegations of widespread corruption and controversies with accusations of electoral delegates’ votes openly being bought and sold.

However, the reality is that the elections in Somalia have always been based on a very narrow franchise and irregularities have been the characteristic of previous ones. While it is hard to expect a credible and inclusive process under an indirect election, the current electoral exercise is the most divisive, irregular and uncoordinated in recent history. 

The level of electoral fraud seen in this election is eye-watering and in the open for everyone to see. In the preceding election, the 275 members of the lower house were elected by 14,025 electors, while the 54 members of the upper house of the legislature were elected by the state assemblies of the different regional administrations in Somalia. It is true that political actors in Somalia seek to advance electoral means based on their perceived prospects. But it's also fair to say that previous electoral processes were the by-products of consensus and negotiated political settlements between stakeholders.

Somalia was meant to have a new government or one with a new mandate on February the 8th 2021. Today the elections of the Lower House are not completed and the government and opposition are blaming each other. This blame game could lead Somalia back to square one if the political process is not completed fairly and transparently. Without credible elections, rampant electoral fraud can jeopardise elections' integrity and erode public approval for democratic transitions. This will be at the cost of full democratic accountability and legitimacy. 

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo is conveniently cowering behind his handpicked Prime Minister Roble to say the election delays are not his fault, pointing to the fact that election management has been handed over to the Prime Minister after the botched two-year government term extension. The Prime Minister is blaming the Federal member states and the election committees for the delays. HOL is not concerned with just the delays because this is a symptom of a larger problem with Somalia’s elections which is electoral irregularities and their wider consequences. 

Electoral corruption is clearly present in every aspect of the election. Both the Federal government and FMSs machineries are jostling to make their friends and loyalists MPs to do their bidding in the presidential elections. There have been scandals in many seats in the Upper and Lower Houses of parliament. Complaints have been lodged by the former speaker of Parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari and other candidates like him protesting about electoral fraud. Clan elders have publicly complained about being side-lined if they do not support the government’s choice of candidates. Consequently, political disputes and a lack of electoral progress have dominated these elections. Failing to take the required corrective measures could result in questionable outcomes, jeopardising the relative peace achieved in recent years in Somalia. 

The election process is being held back due to a piecemeal electoral process and the absence of impartial scrutiny and arbitration. The Federal Electoral Commission and the State Level indirect Commissions are made up of mainly government and Federal Member States loyalists. These officials cannot be expected to do justice for the candidates who do not support the politics of their masters. This has already compromised the elections and any outcome may be bound for the Dispute Resolution Mechanism Committee which in itself is also full of government stalwarts.

The opposition are claiming to have lost all faith in the electoral process being free and fair. They are threatening total withdrawal from the process and establishing a parallel process. There are risks associated with opposition starting a parallel process as this could lift the lid on many other invisible clan and armed actors. All these taken together may lead to political instability and a return to the internal violence of February 2021. If this happens, there may be no way back for a safe and free elections.

The prospect of electoral uncertainty is already taking its toll on Somalia. Al-Shabaab continues to pose a violent threat and has proven its resilience, with reports that it collects record amounts of taxations from Somali businesses across the country. Meanwhile the political elites are at loggerheads over delayed elections and irregularities.

Fragile countries like Somalia have borne the brunt of mismanaged elections. The last Afghan elections which were widely riddled with electoral fraud and disagreements undermined its legitimacy and eventually accelerated the government’s downfall. Elections in Iraq encountered comparable difficulties, resulting in widespread trust issues, fuelling uncertainty, political and security crisis. Somalia’s neighbour, Ethiopia is no exception. A power struggle and election dispute are among factors that have led to its current ethnic warfare.

To save the Somali elections, the Prime Minister has to act like the man which the Somali parliament trusted with delivering the election and not be consumed by personal interest and insignificant political bickering.

The election committees have to do their job fairly because their actions and decisions will determine what happens next for Somalia. The opposition political actors must continue to seek a peaceful solution for resolving the electoral impasse which have implications not only for the Somali federal government but also political leaderships across the federal member states as well as communities, civil society, and the region.

The absence of political will and moral responsibility to hold an agreed upon fair and free elections carry a high cost for Somalia.

Hiiraan Online Editorial Board
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