Recently, the national independent electoral commission announced that implementing one person, one vote on time is impossible and proposed a term extension for both the parliament and Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo’s government. They claimed the adjournment was proposed to finish all required policies and technicalities for one person, one vote elections to take place eventually. But this did not sit well with the federal member states as they claimed that if the current federal government allowed the electoral commission to hold one man, one vote elections, they also had the political will to hold it on time. This demonstrated the postponement of the election and the possible term extension were a politically motived plan, rather than a necessary predicament caused by technical and procedural challenges.
However, when federal member states leaders met recently in the Somalian city of Dhuusamareeb, in the absence of the federal government leaders, they demanded elections be held on time and urged federal government leaders to follow and respect the provisional constitution which does not mandate term extension and commends elections to be held on time. They also invited the federal government leaders to come to Dhuusamareeb and discuss an alternative electoral model and a suitable time for elections.
The outcome expected from this meeting could be either of these two: settling the dispute for regional leaders accepting the possible term extension proposed by the national commission so one person, one vote elections can be conducted within the agreed time frame, which is very unlikely to happen given the recent history between the two political structures which is characterized by mistrust and lack of cooperation. The other possible scenario is if the federal leaders will compromise and agree with the regional leaders to organize elections with a different electoral model. At least there is a political consensus among the political decision-makers that if the desired one person, one vote is not possible, then there should be a different electoral model that will ensure the utmost representation of the people. Of course, developing such a model will need time; there will be a delay for technical and procedural purposes.
As the latter outcome is more likely to be agreed upon by the Somali political elite meeting in Dhuusamareeb, the important question concerns when can the one man, one vote be organized in the country. It has been almost 50 years since the last time Somalis went to the polls and cast their votes to elect their government officials. But lately, the possibility of organizing democratic elections has been a subject of discussion. Many believe since the country’s recovery from a decadeslong conflict is going well and establishing an enduring peace seems to be within reach, this is the right time for Somalia to hold democratic elections. Others disagree, arguing that although the idea is appealing, the security realities on the ground do not allow for many Somalis to elect their representatives in both the lower and upper houses, and they will not be able to vote in the presidential election. That being said, what cannot be denied is that there are genuine obstacles along the way that Somalia needs to overcome if the hope of organizing democratic elections is to be realized.
Thirty years have passed since the central government buckled, yet security remains an issue in Somalia. Although there are a number of terrorist groups operating in the country, al-Shabaab has remained the most dangerous group. In fact, they still are the perpetrators of some of the deadliest attacks such as the Soobe terrorist attack in 2017 which claimed the lives of more 500 people and the attack on Ex-Control police checkpoints that took more than 85 lives in 2019.
They continue to carry out suicide bombings and targeted killings to prove that they are still active and effective. However, one of the key promises of Farmaajo when he was campaigning, was the eradication of al-Shabaab. But despite some military efforts in which they managed to take back some major cities from the group, the promise of defeating them remains entirely undelivered. Furthermore, another issue that poses a security threat to the country is the armed militias that are loyal to their clans. The disarmament of these militias is also essential in order for Somalia to become safe and secure.
Furthermore, defeating these terrorist groups and the disarmament of pro-clan militias will contribute to the triumph of law and order in Somalia, which is very essential to the long-overdue one person, one vote election.
Localism and focusing more on local issues rather than broader or nationwide problems are one of the main challenges that Somalia has been facing for the past 10 years. Since the adaptation of federalism, which mandates power-sharing, political parochialism has gained mastery over national interest. As regional politicians have become more local minded throughout the years, their political actions have significantly undermined the efforts needed to address common problems that affect all Somalis.
Truth be told, this level of provincialism or parochialism particularly hurts a country like Somalia which is still recovering from years of conflict and civil war. This has even impacted ordinary citizens as local identity has overpowered the national identity. Especially, the young generation whose mindset has become more parochialist. This is another symptom caused by the lack of effective central authority that is able to shape the identity and mentality of its citizens. Therefore, reducing the political parochialism and promoting a common national identity would be necessary for the survival of Somalia’s heterogeneity. Regional leaders will have an important role in recreating a common national identity by at least downplaying their local minded political incentives and addressing the issues as nationwide.
Of course, there is no problem if regional leaders focus on dealing with local problems. In fact, it is one of the reasons that Somalia has adopted federalism. But the constant conflict and denial of the wider issues that affect all Somalis is presumably the reason why many Somalis perceive that this parochialist mentality of the regional leaders will do more harm to the survival of Somalia as a unified nation-state.
Lack of political will
This has been the very reason that Somalia has not been able to progress much in the socioeconomic and political spectrums. The self-centered political behavior of the political elite is the prime reason for the lack of political will to agree on something beneficial for the country and the survival of its nation and to find common ground to move the country forward and deal with the multifaceted problems of Somalis. Therefore, if this journey of democratization and institutionalization is to succeed, then there must be political will from our political leaders driven by inclusivity and common consensus. Only then will Somalia be able to see democratically organized elections.
Overcoming these challenges, along with others such constitutional ambiguities, remain critical for Somalia’s journey toward fair and just democratic elections.
BY MOHAMED SALAH AHMED