Somalian president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo signed a bill into law on Friday, Feb. 21 that will allow Somali citizens to directly elect their leaders for the first time in 50 years. For a country that has been ravaged by one of the longest civil wars in Africa, the move marks a decisive step towards a more democratic country. Somali’s held its last democratic elections in 1969 after which the country descended into lawlessness.
‘Our Beloved Citizens Will Have the Chance to Execute Their Democratic Rights’
“This night marks a historic night for our nation, because after nearly 50 years our republic and our beloved citizens will have the chance to execute their democratic rights for one man, one vote in the forthcoming 2021 election, “ Farmajo declared after signing the bill.
“No one has special status and it will be the time for everyone to seek a mandate from the people based on their performance,” he added.
Also expressing delight and optimism was chair of the national independent electoral commission Mrs Halima Ismail Ibrahim who said, “It is such a historic time for Somalia. This bill will give Somali people the right to political participation which they have been denied for 50 years.”
Under the new “one person, one vote system” Somalis will vote directly for parties with parliamentary seats being allocated according to the final tallies. The elected members of parliament will then elect the president and prime minister, with the latter coming from the party with majority MPs.
Somalia’s Previous Clan Election System
The new system is unlike in the previous 4.5 system in which clan elders were entrusted with the responsibility of choosing delegates to elect leaders. Under the system key government positions and parliamentary seats were shared equally among the four major clans with the rest going to smaller tribes. The system — which had the backing of the UN — was formulated to help give clans equal representation owing to the country’s fragile security situation.
However with time the International community turned against it describing it as a recipe for chaos. This was because it was dominated by clan leaders who did not necessarily represent the interest of their groups. It also gave the four largest clans eight out nine positions while marginalizing the smaller ones.
Major Challenges Still Remain in Implementing New Somali System
Although Somalia’s international partners have praised the new system, they have also pointed out the areas and challenges that still need to be addressed, in order for the new legislation to be implemented. They have urged all stakeholders — among them the Federal Government of Somalia, the Federal Parliament, the Federal Member States and political parties — to work together and support the electoral body NIEC in implementing the law.
Of late there have been clashes between the federal government and the federal states of Puntland and Jubaland. In Jubaland for instance an armed struggle is brewing In Gedo between the local security forces and those loyal to the federal government. And in Puntland, offices of the electoral body were shut down by the local authority early this month.
There are also certain aspects of the new law that need further clarification and which the international partners want to be resolved as soon as possible. These include the “representation of the Benadir region in the parliament”, “the modalities for electing the seats allocated for Soamalilanders” and the identification of seats that will be reseved for women in to ensure the 30% representation .
The 30% parliamentary gender quota was introduced in 2016 to boost women representation and participation in political affairs. Over the last few years the number of Somali women representation has been increasing but is yet to reach the 30% target. At the moment women representation in parliament stands at 24% of the 329 constituencies.
Optimism About New System Giving Somali Women a Political Voice
Nevertheless Ibrahim has expressed optimism by stating “Parliament will put in place necessary measures to make sure women get their 30% seats reserved. We are not there yet, but we have come a long way. There was time when had only 4% representation in parliament.” Female participation in Somali politics to date has mostly been hindered by cultural constraints.
The Political Parties Law is another issue that the international partners have raised “as part of the essential legal frame work required to enable elections to take place on time. They have emphasized the importance of “prioritizing consideration and adoption of the amendments to this law by the Federal Parliament.” This will allow political parties to register for elections.
2020 will be a pivotal year for Somalis who have been denied the right to political participation for 50 years. However this milestone will only be achieved when the Somali leaders come together and show their commitment to the “one person, one vote” system. The election — which is expected to take place between 2020 and 2021 and is expected to cost $53 million according to Ibrahim — can proceed properly if leadership brings people together.