As Somalia prepares to hold indirect elections yet again this year, the uncertainty of the process has fed into the general sense of despair and has the potential to push the country back into chaos if care is not taken to involve all relevant political and social actors, in order to give the process the legitimacy it deserves.
This election brief is based on interviews with individuals involved in the process and with deep knowledge of the behind-the-scenes discussions.
National leaders have repeatedly affirmed that the elections will be held on time – including in official communiques. With the term of the Somali Parliament ending in three weeks, and the president’s in six weeks, Marqaati is concerned that there is little to show in terms of progress in ensuring that a timely transfer of power will take place.
Emerging electoral fraud trends
Marqaati has been closely watching the electoral process with concern, noting a dangerous familiar path of corruption being taken by those in positions of power and seeking to keep their positions.
Political parties have voiced concern to marqaati that the National Leaders Forum, without any constitutional basis, has usurped power and continues to act as a de facto junta that rules by decree. While this may be seen as a convenient method to expedite the process, political parties are concerned that it will be a destabilizing factor beyond the elections and continue to undermine the constitution.
Some clans are claiming that the government has replaced some of the 135 elders representing the clans with political appointees that do not represent them. Marqaati has documented at least two clans whose real elders have been replaced by other individuals.
Furthermore, there is no level playing field in terms of political space: political parties have been virtually denied the freedom to hold any kind of assemblies under flimsy security excuses, political meetings disrupted, political messaging stifled, and democracy campaigners – including marqaati – have been intimidated, harassed, or imprisoned.
The civil society has been particularly sidelined in the process, and any calls for reform or accountability in general, especially electoral accountability, is seen as a threat by the ruling party. This has led to a sense of fear to speak out in this election period among local CSOs, marqaati hereby takes the lead in speaking out.
Old model or delayed elections
Members of the NLF will be briefed by the electoral commission on a viable timetable; while the commission privately maintains that there will be timely elections on the agreed model (51 individuals selecting each MP), political parties are complaining that there is talks of reverting to the old model in order to save time, or extend the timetable in order to implement the new model.
Extending the election date will cause a backlash from among the political parties who have already started declaring that the president will have no authority after the 10th of September. This option has the most potential to cause constitutional crisis and hurt Somalia’s fledgling state legitimacy.
The second option of reverting to the old, simpler model, has the most risks for corruption; there are fears that as in in 2012, when there was widespread buying of parliamentary seats, this could be the case again this year.
Reverting to the old, clearly more corrupt model will surely mean that the past four years have been fully squandered. There hasn’t been any improvement in the electoral model. Giving the 135 elders the power to appoint the MPs will be a return to outright buying of parliamentary seats as had happened in 2012 and hurt the legitimacy of the process.
Within the darkness there is a sliver of hope: twenty-three Somali political parties have signed the Integrity Pact for free and fair elections in Somalia. This is encouraging and shows a willingness by political parties to experiment with honest means to seek political power; however, we are disappointed and concerned by the outright refusal to sign the Pact by some of the political parties, chief among them the ruling party.
Representatives of the Somali public – the elders, political parties, and civil society – should be given a role in shaping both the electoral model and the timetable for holding the elections. An inclusive process will guarantee that there is legitiamcy for the process itself.
The international community – the US, UK, UN, EU, and AU – should hold the members of the NLF to account on holding free and fair elections. The elections will not be considered fair if non-NLF members are denied the opportunity to organize themselves , which is a basic constitutional right. NLF members who try to use their authority to derail the process in their favor should be sanctioned in order to protect the integrity of the process.
There should be a clear timetable with a sense of urgency and based on input from the aforementioned representatives of the Somali public, in order to ensure that the process in not open-ended and meets the set deadlines.