Somalia: 2016 election test for security and political cohesion

On April 12, Somalia’s feuding political leaders finally agreed on the modalities of the 2016 election, ending an eight-month ordeal and paving the way towards a hotly contested federal election in August-September 2016. The agreement sets out an ambitious electoral roadmap that ends with the nomination of 329 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the nation’s bicameral Federal Parliament, including 54 MPs nominated to the Upper House for the first time ever.

The upcoming election is an important one as Somalia has made small strides of progress in security, state-building and economic recovery. However, the 2016 will be a test for security and political cohesion, amidst an active and violent insurgency, weak governance structures, and economic despair. Moreover, the electoral roadmap sets the stage for a national show unlike any experienced in Somalia since the outbreak of civil war, some 25 years ago.


Seven Somali leaders – the Federal President, Prime Minister and parliament Speaker representing the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), and four state leaders representing regional states of Puntland, Jubaland, Southwest and Galmudug – held seven meetings between Feb. 2015 and Apr. 2016, aiming to improve governmental cooperation and struggling to agree on an electoral model. The meeting agendas were dominated by security cooperation, completing the federal system, and agreeing on the electoral model.

The FGS issued a joint statement on July 28, 2015, ruling out popular elections and calling for an alternative electoral model. It is important to note that Somalia has not held democratic national elections since the 1968 election, which was subsequently followed by a 21-year military dictatorship that exercised political repression until it was overthrown in 1991. Since 2004, however, when the current government’s predecessor the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) came to power, the country has held indirect elections legitimized by the clan power sharing 4.5 formula. The elections – held in 2004, 2009, and most recently, in 2012 – established a nominal ‘federal government’ that claimed Somali national legitimacy but faced numerous challenges in its bid for sovereignty, including a violent insurgency, regions demanding more autonomy in a federal arrangement, and foreign military intervention.

The April 12 agreement, therefore, comes at an opportune time to ensure that a federal election takes place, that new MPs are nominated to the Lower House and Upper House of Federal Parliament, and that a new President is elected accordingly. Certainly, the Somali public, weary of electoral mishaps and the deteriorating situation in the country, remains hopeful for a peaceful and legitimate election and transfer of power, if the incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud – himself a candidate – loses the election.

Prior to the April 12 agreement, the National Leadership Forum (NLF) met seven times, working diligently to agree on key issues, in Mogadishu, Garowe and Kismayo. These meetings were characterized by heated discussions, tough negotiations, and pressured compromises, according to insiders.

The electoral agreement

While the April 12 agreement ends months of dispute and uncertainty, it opens the door to a number of critical questions. Firstly, the agreement was preceded by two other agreements – the NLF meeting in Mogadishu on Jan. 27th produced a communiqué detailing the electoral roadmap to the federal election. However, the Puntland delegation led by state President Abdiweli Gaas rejected the Mogadishu meeting outcome and flew back to the Puntland capital Garowe. President Gaas then spent the following weeks traveling and rejecting any return to the 4.5 power-sharing scheme as the basis for the 2016 federal election.

The situation changed when, on April 3, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake inked an agreement with Puntland President Gaas in Garowe. In essence, President Gaas quit his opposition to the 4.5 scheme in return for a more favourable agreement from Mogadishu. The new agreement accepted 4.5 as the premise for nominating Federal MPs, but added important details that seemed to empower the state leadership. For example, Upper House MPs “representing Puntland will be proposed by the executive branch of Puntland”, and that the “president of Puntland shall duly sign the list of official members representing Puntland at the Upper House”.

The new agreement of April 12 endorsed the Federal-Puntland deal of April 3, stipulating that, “the Presidents of the Federal Member States [i.e. Puntland, Galmudug etc.] shall duly sign the list of official members of the Upper House of the Federal Parliament for their respective States”. Secondly, the agreement clarified that each Lower House MP “will be elected by an Electoral College of 50 members,” and that “135 Traditional Elders will select the Electoral Colleges” totalling 13,750 voters casting ballots for 275 MPs. It is important to emphasize that the 135 Traditional Elders were used in 2012 election, whereby they directly nominated 275 Federal MPs and that process was tainted by allegations of corruption, bribery and coercion.

Problems, and opportunities

It is remarkable that an eight-month ordeal ended with an agreement that is at times sensible, vague, and which provides no insight as to the practicality of the electoral plan. There are a number of flaws with the final agreement – the April 12th agreement, that is, which was jointly signed by all the federal and state leaders.

Many questions remain unanswered. If the 275 MPs have been selected since 2004 based on 4.5 clan formula, how will that formula be converted to reflect the existing and emerging state administrations? Secondly, how will empowering the state presidents to “duly sign” off on Federal MPs impact the pseudo-democratic exercise envisioned by the electoral plan? Thirdly, in some cases, the state administrations are not in control of some of their claimed regions, how will this be reflected in the MP selection process and how will the affected communities participate in the “Electoral Colleges”?

On the surface, it seems like such relief to see Somali political leaders notorious for their disputes finally agree on the premise of an election and draft a roadmap to get there. It was wise to empower the existing Federal Parliament, as the agreement stipulates that, “the 2016 electoral model and its implementation mechanism shall be tabled to the Federal Parliament for final endorsement”. Theoretically, this ensures that there exists some balance in the political show driven and drafted by the seven federal and state leaders. Already, there are reports that Federal MPs are opposed to some elements of the April 12 deal, including provisions that explicitly empower state presidents to endorse Federal MPs.

In Somalia’s developing federal system, it is important to recognize and respect the two separate levels of government – federal and state. In that respect, it is absurd and unnecessary for state presidents to “approve” federal-level MPs. Certainly there is no place for this in the Provisional Federal Constitution, and the state constitutions do not list such powers for state presidents. Secondly, problems shall expectedly arise in determining the state origin of each of the 275 seats, as some clans live in different states but are grouped together as one by the alien 4.5 formula. How such delicate matters are resolved will determine the future success of the electoral plan.

Finally, as this process moves forward, it is important to bear in mind that the entire exercise is another test for Somalia’s security and political cohesion. If electoral colleges successfully hold elections in all five existing/emerging states (excluding Somaliland), it will reflect notable security sector progress and will signal a new level of political cohesion. However, as the situation currently stands, nominating Federal MPs under this complex new system – which is a difficult compromise between 4.5 and district-based selection – will be a true test for political cohesion: within districts, states, and nationally. It will require vision, leadership and technical capacity to implement it smoothly, and in the face of much adversity.

Source: Somali Review