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Somalia's elections seen as a watershed moment: Can the Prime Minister save it?

By Mahamoud Salah 
Saturday - December 25, 2021

After months of delays, failed deadlines, and rising tensions between the government, opposition, and the federal member states, and as the 2021 year is drawing to a close, no presidential election is in sight. President Farmajo seems intent in staying power by all means, to make sure his rejected two-year term extension is finally realized through delays and crisis. 

The Prime Minister reiterated that electoral teams at federal and state levels and the dispute resolution team should ensure that clan leaders, civil society representatives and the electoral candidates all meet the set criteria for elections. But this didn’t happen. The PM's mishandling of the election is so disastrous that he had to sack seven of the electoral dispute committee members whose integrity and neutrality was blemished after failing to discharge their function in a legitimate manner. Rather, they have been accused of presiding over a shambolic election stained by vote-rigging and seat fixing. The entire process has been so terrible that even al-Shabab extremist group isn't even attempting to sabotage the vote because the rampant corruption makes them look good in comparison.

Massive cases of staggering corruption have stained the ongoing parliamentary elections. The Dispute Resolution Committee have ruled in favour of the acting NISA Chief Yasin Farey, which shows their arbitration in favour of Villa Somalia. It is also the case that other seats had predictable outcomes because of obvious electoral corruption supported by the prime minister and the presidency office. And in one example, a sitting MP seeking re-election fielded her teenage daughter as her opponent and the Deputy Prime Minister competed against a woman who would not even show her face. These are not credible elections – but rigged selections. All the while these egregrious electoral violations were occurring, the PM was sleeping at the wheel, only regaining his awareness when he comes under attack from the president. And now they are once again locked in a new standoff - accusing each other for election failures.   

The ongoing election has turned out to be a watershed moment in Somalia's history, one of the most rigged political events in the country's history — and that's saying a lot, given under president Farmajo’s stewardship, the country is already ranked as the most corrupt on earth by Transparency International.

Building trust across the political stakeholders is more important than ever in light of Somalia's current grim circumstances, especially since Farmajo and his surrogates have created societal divisions with sections of the army on opposite sides. His past five-year stint in office has reignited tribal tensions in parts of the country including his tribal hometowns in the Gedo region.

Farmajo is good at pointing at the finger and blame the innocent but he is the real problem behind Somalia’s political crisis. His critics say that he’s sceptical to agreeing any election, unless it guarantees his return.   

Each time the Farmajo regime pushed forward measures such as the Kenyan Khat ban - only to replace it with one from Ethiopia, or the eviction of UN envoy through PNG (declaring someone "persona non grata" doesn’t apply to UN personnel) and then getting in cahoots with Eretria - a partnership that was up to no good, he stirred these tensions affecting citizens for his political gains. Under all these incoherent and drifting populistic moves, Farmajo evokes a folk devil, a threatening outsider or internal enemy (Qaran-dumis) whose presence is used to justify self-centred government agenda which have all proven to be irrational and futile.

Furthermore, Somalis, particularly those in Mogadishu, have had enough of Farmajo and his authoritarian rule. Over the previous four years, among many other promises, his election pledge in the build-up to the 2017 election that roadblocks would be a thing of the past, turned out to be a campaign stunt. Quite the reverse, he turned the capital city into an open jail, blocking all major routes and restricting mobility like never seen before, under the guise of combating terrorism.  What started out as a well-received presidency (Farmajo ii geeya) may end up serving as a haunting warning to president Farmajo that Somalis can no longer tolerate dictatorship and a winner-take-all politics. 

Meanwhile, some parliamentary candidates have argued that electors have been able to sneak images of their vote to prove they have voted for certain candidates. In the Somaliland SIET, election management personnel can be seen escorting electoral delegates to the voting booths, and unlawfully remaining with them as they cast their vote to make sure they vote for a predetermined candidate. This is clearly in violation of the election bylaws agreed on under the 17 September agreement by the federal government and member states.

The international community is turning a blind eye to the shambolic electoral process and are merely focused on the outcome. The flawed process could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the new government. This is a mistake of a huge proportion as only being fixated on the outcome is a risky strategy because, without a healthy electoral process, nobody will have faith in the outcome. To many, this is a dereliction of duty on the part of Somalia’s international partners.

Other than empty populism and phoney nationalism, the current leadership never steps up to the challenge to take responsibility for anything, whether it be the rendition of Qalbidhagah, the attack on opposition leaders, or the alleged deployment of Somali soldiers to the Ethiopian war. Instead, they put up a string of fall guys used as a human shield - whilst hiding in the shadows criticizing ‘foreigners’ and building up opposition against their impeding failures. 

In stark contrast with his predecessors, President Farmajo, who ran on an anti-Ethiopia platform and vowed to restore Somalia's shattered sense of nationhood, has become one of the most ardent supporters of Ethiopia. And, in a clear sign of loyalty, his government has recently voted against a proposal establishing an international Commission of Human Rights Experts to investigate atrocities committed in the Ethiopian year-long conflict.

Free and fair elections require independent institutions to manage them. The big question now is whether Prime Minister Roble is the suitable man to save the country from electoral crisis. Untill now, the Prime Minister hasn’t shown any tangible leadership in these chaotic elections. If he wants to be remembered for anything significant, he needs to sort out the failing elections.  

Mahamoud Salah
Email: [email protected]


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