Somaliland Elections: A Victim of Politics, Certainly Not Policies as Presented

Combined Parliamentary and Local Council Elections of the Somaliland Republic originally planned on March 27, 2019 became a hostage for senseless politics of the national institutions entrusted in safeguarding and advancing it – the government, political parties, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), and the House of Representatives to some extent.

It seems that it has been forgotten all of a sudden the importance of holding such elections to the endorsement and acceptance of this nation as a functioning democracy. Derailing the local councils and parliamentary elections intentionally or unintentionally is going to costly damage the reputation of Somaliland.

The consensus view in Somaliland and with the foreign partners providing funds for elections (Denmark, EU Delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, & United States of America) believe that it is the best interest of Somaliland to hold free and fair elections on scheduled time without recurring delays. The political parties need to think beyond party lines and consider the consequence of their actions would have on the ambitions of the nation. In reality, the continuing feud on the past due elections that is void of concrete mechanism  of resolving contested issues would eventually lead to an erosion of public confidence in elections.

Democratization in Somaliland was a long and bumpy process that transitioned the nation from clan-based system, and is  one of the many valuable treasures that the country has to offer for its ongoing quest for international recognition. Considering the respect and applause that it has won for the  nation, such process should have been constantly nurtured and at the same token been avoided the pity politics radiating from all entities entrusted with safeguarding it.

18th May – National Day – Celebration

The public appearances and press releases of the stakeholders wrangling over this issue are nothing but rhetoric for public consumption to persuade the electorate to one way or the other. However, in the absence of an independent and impartial organizations that dig deeper into such politics for the purpose of  digesting whether they are facts or assertions, societies like ours, just embracing such concept, can be confused, taken advantage of, and most seriously fragmented to where frictions, tensions, and troubles easily brew within communities.

Despite many past successful elections in Somaliland, the electoral system seems very fragile and vulnerable to dividing politics of the stakeholders in elections if the rule of electoral law is not STRICTLY enforced and CORRECTLY interpreted with the direction and guidance of High Court if the meaning of an article or clause is not clear and is in doubt.

The main hurdle for holding elections is the demand to disband immediately all members of Somaliland NEC,  and couple of minor ones about the concerns voiced against the regional parliamentary seat allocation, and about the quotas for women as wells as for minorities in the upcoming House of Representatives. Later ones are not ambiguous concerns in terms of understanding them and there is still an ample time to find satisfactory solution for them.

However, the essence of current impasse relating to local councils and parliament elections comes down to the former issue relating to NEC. Instead of working towards common ground and resorting to the rule of law, it has been escalated to become a party politics polarizing the country into two opposing forces at a time still the backlash of 2017 Presidential Election resonating with the public.

Consolidated Presidential & Local Councils Elections Law that became effective in January 2017 clearly sorts out what needs to be done in this type of situation.

Article 12 deals with eligibility criteria for membership of the Commission and mostly sets out the impeachable acts warranting dismissal of commissioners.

  • He must be a patrial citizen of Somaliland.
  • He must be no less than 40 years of age and no more than 70 years.
  • He must be a Muslim and must behave in accordance with Islamic religion.
  • He must be educated to at least secondary school level or equivalent.
  • He must not be a member of a political association/party and must be independent of all of them.
  • He must be renowned, amongst the society, for respect, honor and fairness.
  • He must never have been convicted by a court for a crime.
  • He must be physically and mentally able to fulfill his duties.

Article 13 deals with the process of dismissing commissioners, particularly clause 2 that says when it is suspected that the matters set out above (in clause 1 of this Article) have happened, the President shall appoint an investigation committee which shall report on the issues so that he can reach a decision thereupon

Looking closely the arguments offered by the main two contenders  – Kulmiye and Wadani – on this issue of disbanding the NEC reveal that opposite positions have been taken when it comes to the meaning of Article 13 of Somaliland Electoral Law. One side is on the opinion that the commission members can only be removed individually when the other side thinks that they can be collectively dissolved.

On January 13, 2019 Kulmiye and Ucid parties released  jointly statement of 5 points explaining a scenario making possible the holding elections in November 2019 without the consent of Wadani party. This is going to start another round of meaningless mess as shunning aside a main opposition political party enjoying the support of a huge portion of the electorate is not a sound solution.  In addition, the validity of such action is not even clear from the legal standpoint.

On the other hand, the referee of the game -NEC – is not seen as an honest and neutral body because of the pace of their actions and their attitude towards the row on elections. The commission as an institution in charge of elections and its processes was supposed to keep an arm’s length from the government as well as from the political parties to enjoy the trust of both and that of public as well, but it shrouded itself with doubts questioning its independence. Keeping low profile in the midst of this dispute over electoral laws by the election contenders is a sign of either seeking directions from elsewhere or an incompetency on their part to deal with current situation. For instance, Wadani opposition party has publicly stated several times that it has submitted a formal written statement to the electoral commission about their complaints and concerns. However, the election commission never talked publicly about this once whether complaints and concerns were reasonable and legitimate or how they have resolved them.

As to the power or seat sharing in the parliament, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi, the current chairman of Wadani Political Party and former Speaker of Somaliland House of Representatives from November 2005 – 2 August 2017, along with the entire Somaliland Parliament members have their own mark on this question. It is an unfortunate dilemma brought about by the inaction of the current Somaliland Parliament.  Current allocation of parliamentary seats was provisional arrangement designed only to be used for 2005 Parliament elections, a fact clearly mentioned in the election laws as this quote from the Somaliland Law website explains:

Article 12 of election laws deals with parliamentary representation. This 82 seat allocations is applicable only to this first popular direct election of the House of Representatives and is based on pro rata formula of the number of seats allocated to each of the six principal districts in Somaliland in 1960, which are now the six regions. There were only 33 seats then (as was later confirmed by section 17 of the first 1960 Constitution of the independent State of Somaliland and the allocation per region was first used for the February 1960 Somaliland Legislative Council elections, and was also followed in the subsequent 1964 and 1969 parliamentary elections.  This allocation was not based on any population census or voter registration”

Nevertheless, they chose to neglect this priority for 13 years to finally became a hindrance threatening the holding of parliamentary elections. Another recent move taken by the president adds further fuel to the flame. He  picked a team out of his cabinet ministers tasked to look into the parliamentary seat representation, which is a move that clearly violates the separation of power and at the same time undermines the ongoing efforts of the parliament to tackle the issue in question.

 An article entitled Prior to 2019 Somaliland Elections (Part IV): Regional Allocation of Parliamentary Seats” published in January 6, 2018 clearly pointed out four viable choices or election models that can  be adopted to temporarily overcome its effect on the upcoming parliamentary election.

Somaliland House of Elders extended the term for Somaliland House of Representative for nine more months until January 2020 and mandated that elections to be held in December 2019.

Look Back in History

Looking back recent history of Somaliland elections since the resumption of sovereignty in 1991, Somaliland elects nationally its Head of State, at regional level 82 members for its House of Representatives. , and 379 councilors for 23 Local Councils throughout the country.  First local council elections and first parliamentary election held respectively in 2002 and in 2005. In every ten years, the vote of any Somaliland citizen determines both which individual candidate would win and which political association would become a registered national political party. On 28 November 2012, Somaliland conducted its second and last local council elections, whereas the last parliamentary election was on 29 September 2005 and the next one was supposed to take place in October 2010 but unfortunately, it has to happen yet after almost 13 years with a 5 term extensions.

There are 1383 hopeful contestants coming from the three registered political parties vying for the 82 parliamentary seats and 379 local council seats. They have been patiently waiting for over either 13 years or 6 years respectively to have their luck at the polls.

Article 4 of PRESIDENTIAL AND LOCAL ELECTION LAW deals with membership of the local councils and sets the total membership of the Local Councils to be elected:

  • The Local Council of the Capital City Hargeisa: 25 members.
  • The Local Councils of category A Districts: 21 members.
  • The Local Councils of category B Districts: 17 members.
  • The Local Councils of category C Districts: 13 members.

Regions & Districts Law (Law No: 23/2002) states clearly the six districts or regions in the Republic of Somaliland:  Maroodijeh (Hargeisa), Togdheer (Burco). Sanaag (Erigavo), Awdal (Borame), Sool (Las Anod), and Sahil (Berbera).

Six districts or regions in Somaliland Republic

Categories of Local Councils in Somaliland

Marodijeh Region: 72 seats

  • Hargeisa City Council (Category A) with 25 seats
  • Gabiley Local Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Baligubadle Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Salahley Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats

Togdheer Region: 55 seats

  • Burao City Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Odweyne Local Council (Category B) with 17 seats
  • Buhoodle Local Council (Category B) with 17 seats

Sanaag Region 94 seats

  • Erigavo City Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Ceel Afweyn Local Council (Category B) with 17 seats
  • Badhan Local Council (Category B) with 17 seats
  • Las Qoray Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Dhahar Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Gar Aday Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats

Awdal Region: 64 seats

  • Borame City Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Zayla Local Council (Category B) with 17 seats
  • Baki Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Lughaya Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats

Sool Region: 60 seats

  • Las Anod City Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Ainabo Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Taleh Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
  • Hudun Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats

Sahil Region: 34 seats

  • Berbera City Council (Category A) with 21 seats
  • Sheikh Local Council (Category C) with 13 seats
Local Councils in Somaliland Republic

Somaliland National Electoral Commission

Current commission is the fourth one from 2002 and its tenure began on 29 November 2014. Normally, it serves a period of five years. The commission is made up of seven members per Article 11 of Electoral Law. Three of them are nominated by the president, two by the House of Elders, and one of each by the opposition parties. On the part of the opposition political parties, this composition raises legitimate questions that makes necessary revisiting again the commission makeup to boost the fair representation of stakeholders.

Members of Somaliland National Electoral Commission

Ahmed J Yassin

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed here are those of the author/authors and do not reflect views of Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII) and/or its sponsors or partners. SII reserves the right to edit articles before publication. To consider publishing your opinion piece or analysis please email to February 8, 2019