MOGADISHU, Somalia – After three decades of civil war and imminent Al-Shabaab threats, the hope of restoring democracy in Somalia lies within its internal institutions, the UN has said, noting indispensable roles that both Parliament and the National Independent Electoral Board will play in the coming weeks.
NIEC, under the administration of Halima Yarey, has planned on May 27 for an address to Parliament where, among other things, the Commission will announce the timeline and key dates for long-awaited votes, which have caused sharp differences between the opposition and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
It expected to make recommendations for the path to the next vote is the parliamentary ad-hoc committee, which has fixed some of the critical issues left out in the controversial election law signed by the president in February amid protests from federal states.
Some of the issues that are yet to be agreed include nomination of constituency boundaries, allocation of seats for the Banadir region and secessionist Somaliland, the guarantee of the 30 percent quota for women seats and amendments to the Political Parties Act to comply with the electoral code.
And in a speech on Thursday during the UN Security Council meeting, the UN Special Envoy to Somalia James Swan noted that “Somalia’s institutions will play a key role in determining the country’s future in the coming weeks”.
The UN has been consistent about the electoral model for one person and one vote as opposed to the traditional clan-based system, popularly known as the 4.5 model. This approach, Swan had said in previous engagements with stakeholders, will “expand” the democratic space by allowing citizens to make their choices.
But the approach has been subjected to frequent and coordinated criticism from the opposition, citing the lack of “participatory approach” by the federal government on controversial electoral law, with some member states such as Puntland and Kismaayo accusing the administration of “planning for an extension period”.
The distance has also invoked radical recommendations from apolitical groups such as the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies, a Somali think group that excluded general choices, citing “limited time” and lack of “consensus” among Somali stakeholders.
In their recommendations, the group, under Abdirashid Hashi, a former Villa Somalia director, proposed an expansion model, which is expected to increase the number of delegates participating in the elections from 14,025 to about 221,000, with each MP allocated about 1,000 votes during the program.
“The EPM imagines that the more people who vote, the stronger the choice is integrity and the less money exchanges,” it says. “The proposed EPM option will also help to meet the quota for women in Parliament as well as Somaliland’s representation.”
Depending on what the Somalis will decide, Swan told UNSC, all partners should be ready to “mobilize the technical support and financial resources” needed for implementation. The National Electoral Security Group, he added, “must also accelerate to ensure the necessary security arrangements for voting to take place”.
Although the UN is keen to have credible elections in the country for the first time since independence, the lack of consensus seems to worry them, which emphasizes having a broader stakeholder dialogue before the election.
“Equally important, there will be a need for consensus building among political leaders and throughout the Somali community to ensure that the elections receive broad support and acceptance,” the broadcaster, representing UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, told UN Security Council .
In addition to the focus on elections, he said, there is a need to focus on state-building priorities as the main strategy for establishing a functional state in Somalia, where the rule of law is appreciated by all state actors and non-actors.
Some of these include the formation of the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Service Commission and an Independent Human Rights Commission, as well as completing the review of the Federal Constitution, he noted.
In order to ensure democratic competition during the polls, the state has also been challenged to provide an enabling environment that protects freedom of speech, assembly and organization, without exposing parts of the population to an unprecedented prejudice.
“I urge the federal government and the federal states to ensure that they are fully respected, especially during this critical election year,” he said, amid escalating detention and harassment targeting both opposition and media in recent weeks.
His speech supports the speech by Guitteres, who condemned the antagonism between the federal government and member states and called for “urgent dialogue” to ease tensions in the Horn of Africa. The Secretary-General had designated the Gedo crisis as one of the “unnecessary” acts that “derail” efforts to rebuild Somalia.
The federal government had deployed troops to the region in a move seen as a secret plot to comfort Kismaayo President Ahmed Madobe. The United States is among international players who stated Farmajo’s decision, claiming that it could pave the way for the revival of Al-Shabaab.
The term for both the executive and the parliament ends in October, and there was fear that the current administration could invoke Article 53 of the Electoral Act to suspend voting because of the current Coronavirus pandemic.
And for Somalia to move forward, the decision of the National Independent Electoral Commission and the parliamentary ad-hoc committee will define its fate. Villa Somalia has remained mum over alleged plans to delay opinion polls, despite persistent accusations from the opposition.