Despite delays in holding elections in Somalia, it is likely that they will soon be held, writes Basma Saad
In violation of the schedule for the Somali elections announced on 17 July, the Somali regional states have been unable to adhere to it.
According to the schedule, senators were supposed to be elected during the period of 25 to 28 July, and the final names of members of the Upper House (Senate) were supposed to be announced on 1 August, followed by preparing for the election of members of the People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament, during the period of 12 September to 2 October.
With the formation of the two houses, Mogadishu would have been one step away from choosing a new president for Somalia, therefore bypassing the political and constitutional crisis the country has been going through since 2020 and because of it the state of political instability and bloody violence.
Other than the Puntland and southwest states, which elected all their representatives to the Senate, 11 and eight seats, respectively, the Jubaland and Galmudug states were able to hold partial elections by selecting four and six representatives, respectively, out of the eight seats allocated to them. The Hirshabelle and Northwestern states are still in the process of preparing for the elections.
This article aims to address the challenges that have prevented the regional states from committing to the electoral schedule, in addition to providing a brief vision of the future of Somalia in the light of the current context.
The challenges that prevented the Somali regional states from adhering to the electoral timetable varied between administrative, political, and those related to security.
The political and security pressures that Mogadishu is facing following the postponement of the Somali elections have turned into a political challenge and a cause of pressure on the head of the transitional government, Mohamed Hussein Roble, who was entrusted with organizing the elections. He thus bears the political responsibility to overcome the present dilemma.
This political challenge prompted Roble to expedite the elections. There was a short period of about a month from the announcement of the date of 25 July for holding the elections, made in June, and the announcement of the elections scheduled on 17 July. This reflected poor preparation and coordination with the heads of the regional states and a failure to take into account what the regional states were facing in terms of obstacles preventing them from committing to the date of the elections.
These obstacles included the pressure of time and the slow preparation for the elections. The five state presidents were unable to submit their lists of final candidates on time, in part because of the high nomination fees of about $20,000 for Upper House candidates, as well as to the fact that some regional states and the federal immigration and security authorities in Mogadishu prevented politicians running in the elections from traveling and returning to their constituencies.
This prompted Roble to announce before the start of the elections on 22 July that he would not tolerate such measures, calling on the airlines and those politicians who had been subject to such illegal restrictions to “report directly to his office.”
The threats came in the light of the intensification by the Somali security and military forces of operations against the strongholds of the rebel Al-Shabaab movement, especially in the center, south, and southwest of the country, with the support of the African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM) and the US.
Washington recorded its first military strikes during the Biden presidency within this framework on 20 to 24 July and succeeded in killing about 210 terrorist elements. This threw the leaders of the movement into disarray and pushed some of them to surrender, among them leader Idris Abdullah Moallem.
There are now two main ways forward for the Somali elections, which at the same time present a vision for the future of Somalia.
First, the present delay in the electoral process could end in the completion of the elections. This is the most likely scenario, since despite the delay by some regional states in deciding their lists of representatives, Somalia has been able to make tangible progress in holding the elections, and it was praised for this by UN Special Envoy to Somalia James Swan.
It is likely that the delay in holding the elections is temporary for two reasons. First, Roble is conducting extensive consultations with those states that have not yet complied with the need to submit electoral lists. Second, political and economic pressures related to the financing of the elections from the international community are expected to escalate, and this will create an additional incentive for the heads of the states concerned to submit their lists.
Something similar took place in the states of Puntland and Jubaland, which were pressured into accepting the electoral system signed in September 2020 by the international community. This scenario is not without the risk of external intervention and attempts to impose a supportive political environment for Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, in the two chambers of parliament, enhancing his chances of winning a second term.
The second possibility is that there will be further obstruction of the electoral process. This will bring memories to the minds of Somalis of the Somali Civil War and the security turmoil and political bickering that the country saw following the postponement of the elections. As a result, Somali leaders will not take responsibility for this path, whether because of the expected security and political repercussions inside Somalia or the position of the international community.
The latter could impose economic sanctions and political pressure on Somalia and its leaders were the elections to be further postponed, thus creating an environment for the growth of the activity of the Al-Shabaab movement.
Although the schedule for holding the Somali elections has suffered a setback, steps have been taken in this direction, indicating the ability of Somalia’s leaders, with the support of the international community, to hold the elections and thus help to end the challenges which Somalia faces after a period of nearly nine months during which the issue of the elections has been the main threat to the future security and stability of the country.
The writer is a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly
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