Commentary and Analysis: The 2016 Somali Elections- A Primer

By Sakariye Cismaan

Somalia is set to hold its first ‘election’ in 2016 since the country’s prolonged transitional period ended in 2012. The possibility of this election to be held on schedule, and the legitimacy of the process itself has become matters of contention.

The electoral process so far

The hoped, but never expected one-person one-vote was suspended due to obvious security reasons, mainly the relative effectiveness of the militant group Al-Shabaab, which opposes the government. Nick Kay, the former UN Special Representative for Somalia, said in June 2015, that given the ground work needed to be completed before a popular election can be held, including training, voter registration, and robust elections administration system, it is unlikely that one-person one-vote will take place in Somalia in 2016. President Hassan Mohamud echoed Mr. Kay’s words by saying in July 2015 that popular vote would be impossible in 2016. The National Leadership Forum communique in April 2016 officially stated that a one-person one -vote was unfeasible, and this was agreed between all Somalia stakeholders. In April 2016, the Puntland government, which was the only regional government that expressed its disappointment on this development, conceded and stated that one-person one-vote should be implemented in 2020 and the 4.5 power sharing, a system that disfavours them in elections, should be eliminated. This agreement was a step forward since Puntland is a major state within Somalia, and its disapproval could have been a major setback to the whole political process.

Perhaps the biggest step so far has been the establishment of the National Traditional Forum (NTF) and the appointment of its 135 members. The NTF will then select the 14,025 which will make up the 2016 Electoral College. Every 51 delegates of this Electoral College will elect one MP. The Electoral College will choose 275 members of the Lower House. This process will be run by the State Indirect Electoral Implementation Teams (SIEITs).

An Upper House will be established for the first time in Somalia’s history. It will contain 54 members and will be nominated by the regional leaders, but have to be approved by the regional parliaments.

The Upper House together with the Lower House will make up Somalia’s next and first bicameral parliament.

Regional States

It is part of this government’s mandate to finalise the formations of all the remaining regional states, before the election takes place. To achieve this, it seems, the government is working hard to form these states for the sake of forming them, without any regard for their effectiveness or legitimacy.


Galmudug was established with all its branches of government in July 2015, with the aim of uniting Mudug and Galguduud as part of the federalising initiative in Somalia. Galmudug now only runs part of Galguduud and Mudug. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) forces –a moderate Sufi sect- who opposed the formation of Galmudug by boycotting the conference and electing their own President now reside in Dhusamareb, the designated capital of Galmudug State. ASWJ claim that the federal government did not respect their hard work of defeating Al-Shabaab in Galguduud, but instead, they claim, the federal government bypassed them and set up a new administration, with imported officials who, they claim are the President’s allies.

Selecting Galmudug MPs in the upcoming election without reconciliation between Galmudug and ASWJ could lead to even more disastrous and lasting divide between the two sides.

Hiiraan / M. Shabelle

The federal government has failed the formation of the interregional state of Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle, due to rivalry and lack of trust between the clans. Hiiraan Traditional elders are demanding Hiiraan to be divided into two regions, Beledweyne should serve as the state’s capital and should host the conference -a suggestion dismissed by its neighbouring region-, and that there should be a comprehensive reconciliation between Hiiraan clans as well as Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle clans. This impasse was made worse by the National Leadership Forum (NLF) in Baidoa when they excluded Hiiraan’s traditional leader Ugaas Hassan Ugaas Khalif. Hiiraan elders have in September commenced a conference intended to establish their own regional state whereas a government sponsored one is taking place in Jowhar to establish another regional state for the same part of the country. The way things are going now, one cannot help but see the similarities between  Hiiraan / M. Shabelle and Galmudug/ASWJ. And Somalia’s next administration will have to sort out the dysfunction the current one has created.

The Opposition’s concerns

The chairperson of the Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) Omar Mohamed Abdulle with an interview with Goobjoog News said:

These elections are quite different from the 2012 polls. We have 135 elders who will choose the voters for each MP, 14,025 voters, technical teams at federal and state level, dispute resolution committee, security among others. There are many factors, players and very limited time to execute each and every time within set timelines. We are however working very hard to ensure we meet the deadlines but we cannot rule out any delays.

In an election debate hosted by Goobjoog News in early July, the permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry Yahye Ali Ibrahim who is responsible for preparation of the schedule of the election alluded to possible elections delay if expected funds from the international community are not received in time, prompting opposition leaders to suspect this election delay could be used as a bargaining chip for term extension.

Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, the leader of Daljir, one of the most active political parties in Somalia, accused the President of usurping power, and said that the fact that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud chose to fiddle with the appointment of FEIT members is another testament that this President is doing everything he can to stay in power. The same sentiment was expressed in June by a coalition of opposition parties, who called the President’s involvement in the creation of the FEIT “unconstitutional”. The spokesman for the coalition, Kamal Gutale urged the international community to look into this matter to avoid a disputed election that could undo all that has been achieved thus far.

The initial FEIT was later reappointed with some new members including the chairperson (a former legal adviser to the President) after the international community rejected it for containing cabinet ministers. But the overall complacency about NLF, some of them candidates themselves, choosing members of FEIT, is detrimental to the freeness and fairness of the electoral process.

The sacking of two female minsters by the suggestion of the President also raised alarm, especially when this took place so close to the election. This was seen by the opposition as a political expediency aimed to appease potential political rivals.

How is this election different?

This is an alternative election which is supposedly a halfway between the 2012 election and one-person one-vote. Although there are now 14,025 delegates who will appoint one chamber of the next parliament rather than having the traditional elders appoint MPs directly as happened in 2012, this can hardly be any different, more legitimate or more representative than the 2012 election, since the electoral committee is set up by the incumbent President and will most likely benefit his campaign, as well as having the potential to lead to a rigged election. Also The Electoral College will be selected by the traditional elders, and will most likely choose those who agree with them, which, in my opinion, is not different from selecting the MPs themselves.

The amount of ground work that is left to be finished, with the amount of time that left, one can only conclude, that either the tasks at hand will be finished at a dangerously speedy pace, or, this election will be postponed for at least couple of months. If I have to choose one, I will go for the latter. And if the amount of times the election timetable has been changed slightly, or postponed altogether is any indication, this election will most likely be concluded in November at its earliest.

The writer is a political analyst and researcher. He now focuses on 2016 Somali elections.

Twitter: @SakariyeCismaan

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