By T. Roble
GOOBJOOG NEWS|SOMALIA: As the National Consultative Council chaired by Prime Minister Mohamed Roble converges in Mogadishu expectedly from today to chart what should be the most consequential part of the long-running elections, a definite ruling for a ‘one polling station’ option should stand out.
Whereas the choice of two towns as polling stations during the September 2020 deliberations was sound and informed by the need for a more inclusive and participatory process, lessons from the ongoing process militate against such a choice. The prevailing situation in the country now informs the need for a rethink just as similar demands have been fronted for a ‘recorrection’ of the electoral process. Whereas some may argue that this amounts to ‘re-opening’ the September 17, 2020, Agreement and potentially setting off another round of talks, subjecting the country to a torturous electoral contest and mood for close to a year now is far much harm.
To date, all Lower House elections have been held in one town in each Federal Member State and for the Somaliland caucus. Seats that were to be contested in towns other than the administrative capitals have not been disposed of.
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In South West State, elections have happened in the capital Baidoa only while no process has started in Barawe, the second polling centre. A similar case in Galmudug state can be seen where voting has only happened in the capital Dhusamareb and not the second centre, Galkaayo. Kismayo and Gerbaharey were designated as polling centres for Jubaland State but voting has taken place in Kismayo only.
Two key factors inform the need for an adjustment from two to one pollings centre. The first is political instability.
Three FMS-Jubaland, Puntland and HirShabelle have faced political challenges which make it difficult to hold elections outside the administrative capitals.
HirShabelle- 38 seats
The long-running hostilities between communities in the Hiiraan region and the HirShabelle State administration led by President Ali Gudlawe could adversely impede the course for elections in Beletweyne. Fresh clashes between forces allied to former SNA commandant General Abukar Huud and Nur Col. Nur Dhere and government forces on Sunday and protests in Beletweyne town against Gudlawe and his administration opened new rounds of feuds between the two sides. Gudlawe and his deputy Yusuf Dabageed have not set foot in Beletweyne since the November 2020 elections which installed Gudlawe as president.
Hiiraan region views Gudlawe’s election as a violation of a rotational power-sharing agreement with the Middle Shabelle region. Hiiraan region was supposed to have the presidency and not Middle Shabelle during the 2020 round. Of note also is that of the 38 seats for HirShabelle, 25 are to be contested in Beletweyne and the remaining 13 in the capital Jowhar. Given these dynamics, the prospects of holding elections in Beletweyne, the capital of Hiiraan region remain slim.
Jubaland- 43 seats
Gerbaharey, the backyard of outgoing President Mohamed Farmaajo has 16 out of the 43 seats for Jubaland. The election for the remaining 27 seats is supposed to take place in the capital Kismayo. Control of the Gedo region has been one of the fiercest points of argument between Madobe and Farmaajo and emerged as a stumbling block to settling the electoral question in 2020. Farmaajo deployed federal troops to various towns of Gedo region in 2019 and 2020 at the height of a show-down between Madobe’s side led by then Security Minister Abdirashid Janan and Villa Somalia. In subsequent electoral talks in 2020 and 2021, Madobe demanded Farmaajo withdraws federal forces from Gedo region but Villa Somalia stood ground. The two leaders are still at odds over Gerbaharey and that will affect the conduct of elections there.
Puntland- 39 seats
Puntland has emerged as another electoral flashpoint in the recent past. The sacking of Puntland Security Forces (PSF) commandant Mohamed Diano on November 24, 2020, by President Abdullahi Deni opened a can of worms that has proved difficult to close. The PSF is based in Bosaso which has in recent weeks turned into a battleground between Deni forces and PSF faction led by Diano. Bosaso has 16 electoral seats while the remaining 21 are based in the administrative capital, Bosaso.
The militant group Al-Shabaab has increased attacks in a trend indicating its intention to disrupt the ongoing elections. There has been an uptick of attacks in Jowhar (HirShabelle), Beletweyne (HirShabelle) and Baidoa (South West). Other volatile areas to watch are Galkaayo (Galmudug) and importantly, Barawe (South West).
Concentrating the elections in single voting centres could therefore help in mobilizing sizeable security apparatus to secure the voting centres.
By reducing the polling centres from two to one, the process will move fast and help in bringing to a close the long-running electoral exercise which is now entering the seventh month.