Somali democracy by slices

Somalia elected two members of the lower house of parliament this week in polls that were delayed by a year, mainly due to internal political struggles. This means that he still has to elect 273 more seats by December 24 and that elected MPs must in turn vote for a president for the “democratic” transfer of power to be complete. Meanwhile, the entire upper house of parliament – chosen by the member states of the Somali federation – has just been elected.

The United Nations (UN) Special Representative for Somalia, James Swann, welcomed the progress in a Report at the UN Security Council on November 17. But he added that Somali political leaders should redouble their efforts to complete the elections as soon as possible “so that all efforts can return to key governance, security and development priorities in Somalia”.

Another bright spot is that last month Federal President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble agreed to bury the hatchet after a year-long bitter power struggle that almost led to violence between them.

One of their main disagreements concerned the election, which was to take place in February so that Farmajo’s first term could end constitutionally. Roble has been pushing for the election to take place ever since. And last month, the two agreed to conduct the polls in a few weeks. The postponement of the elections had already sparked protests and violent clashes with the security forces.

Omar Mahmood, senior analyst for Somalia at the International Crisis Group, believes it is too early to say the democratic process is back on track. Many logistical and political issues have not been fully addressed. He notes that while Roble is pushing for the Lower House elections to be completed by December 24, meeting that deadline requires the political elite to be on the same page. These are the Presidents of the Federal States, plus Roble and of course Farmajo.

“I don’t think the political will in all areas is there yet to complete this in a timely manner,” Mahmood said. It is therefore unlikely that the December deadline will be met.

Mahmood notes that the two MPs elected on November 1 represent Somaliland – a self-proclaimed independent state that Somalia claims but does not control. The elections were therefore relatively straightforward as the number of voters – being Somalilanders from the “diaspora” – was small and all were in Mogadishu. For the remaining 273 deputies, the electoral process remains more uncertain.

Some in Somalia were now hoping for direct elections. But the lingering insecurity – with al-Shabaab’s fierce extremist insurgency still controlling most of the countryside and frequently launching attacks in cities – means that the polls have remained indirect. Clan elders and civil society select some 27,000 delegates who in turn elect deputies from their districts.

The fact that no specific election date could be agreed, as in conventional elections, speaks volumes about Somalia’s fragmented politics. The relatively small number of voters involved, however, at least allowed the elections to proceed in unpredictable increments, with each federal state holding its polling stations at the appropriate time.

And after the elections in Somaliland last week? Mahmood thinks the other votes will be trickle down. “Every time you take a few out and then the pressure drops, it saves you a few more weeks. I think it will last like this for a few months.

The pace will be dictated by the tension between the leaders who want to move forward to show progress and momentum, and those who want to take a few small steps to buy time.

If Roble leads the pressers, Farmajo leads the stallers. The longer the delay, the longer Farmajo remains in office, and although he has the right to run for a second term, victory is far from certain. He’s likely to face two former presidents and a former prime minister, likely like a few black horses – like Farmajo himself was when he won in 2017.

Mahmood says the latecomers camp also includes some presidents of federal states close to Farmajo. It also includes some member states who hope that changes will be made to the electoral process to their advantage.

The danger according to Mahmood is that if there is no new parliament in place by the start of the new year, it could escalate frustrations and provoke protests from the political opposition. These could turn violent as they had already done this year. Clashes led protesters to Pull dead by government forces, while various security units also clashed with each other.

“Eventually you will have a presidential vote which will still be quite contested, but I think everyone is waiting for the completion of this process to return to a certain level of normality. Which is really needed because other priorities are not being addressed at the moment, such as security, like some of the statebuilding tasks, the economy can start to get back on track. “

One of the main security concerns that has been put on the back burner by the delay in the elections is the future of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) which is helping to keep al-Shabaab at bay. His term is supposed to expire on December 31, but the UN, the African Union and a distracted Somali government have failed to agree on his future.

There is, however, general agreement that at least for the immediate future, the Somali security forces cannot do without Amisom. Not a good time for installment democracy. DM

Peter Fabricius, SSI consultant.

First published by The ISS today.

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