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2020 - Somalia Elections

While long-term security requires improved governance and justice systems, there is also an unquestionable requirement for “hard security” operations to counter Al-Shabaab. Despite progress in rebuilding State security institutions, military operations slowed since mid-2019, as force generation had not been sufficient to carry out priority operations against Al-Shabaab.

Somalia’s parliament expires in November, and the President’s term ends in February. Somalia missed a deadline to hold its parliamentary elections on 01 December 2020 as agreed by the federal government and six regional states earlier in the year. Opposition leaders had called for reforms, raising concerns regarding the election commission and its capacity to hold a free, fair and credible vote. The last elections were held in 2016. The Federal Indirect Elections Team has not yet announced a new date for the elections.

Somalia’s election body said 29 June 2020 it intends to delay the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for November by 13 months, citing the country’s security problems. Announcing that a new date for the elections in Aug. 2021, Halimo Ismail, chairwoman of the electoral commission, told lawmakers and journalists that elections were being postponed for more than a year because of “significant technical and security challenges.”

Somalia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 2020-21 were slated to take place on a one-person to one-vote basis for the first time since 1969. However, realities on the ground have prevented this expectation, including a serious rift between the Federal Government and several Federal Member States which delayed agreement on the electoral legislation and procedures, as well as continued insecurity. Instead, the ‘Mogadishu Model’ will see an augmented indirect electoral process, with senators in the Upper House selected by State Assemblies and an expanded number of clan delegates electing MPs in the Lower House, who will in turn vote for the President.

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but citizens could not exercise that ability. In 2016 the president signed the law on political parties that created the first framework for legal political parties since 1969, when former president Siad Barre banned political activities after taking power in a coup. The law required all politicians to join a political party by the end of 2018. As of December, 63 national parties had provisionally registered with the National Independent Election Commission. Prior to the law, several political associations had operated as parties.

Indirect elections for the federal parliament’s two houses concluded in January 2017, and parliament elected the president in February 2017. Indirect elections for the lower house of parliament–the House of the People–expanded the electorate from 135 elders to 14,025 electoral college delegates selected by clan elders; 51 delegates selected by clan elders were responsible for voting on each lower house seat, and delegates were required to include 30 percent women (16 members) and 10 youth members. The electoral process for both houses was widely viewed as flawed and marred with corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest and the regional government of Puntland in the northeast controlled their respective jurisdictions.

The indirect election is full of corruption, blame games and nepotism, and terror groups may have a say in it. The 2020 election stand-off ess merely a repeat of the 2016 debacle. But since then, no lessons were learned and nothing has been done to improve the Somali election structures.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and of search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Al-Shabaab committed religiously and politically motivated killings that targeted civilians affiliated with the government and attacks on humanitarian NGO employees, UN staff, and diplomatic missions. Al-Shabaab often used suicide attacks, mortar attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It also killed prominent peace activists, community leaders, clan elders, electoral delegates, and their family members for their roles in peace building, and it beheaded persons accused of spying for and collaborating with Somali national forces and affiliated militias. Al-Shabaab justified its attacks on civilians by casting them as false prophets, enemies of Allah, or as aligned with al-Shabaab’s enemies.

Government and regional authorities arrested journalists as well as other persons critical of authorities, although arrests and harassment in Mogadishu substantially subsided since President Farmaajo’s election in 2017. Neither government nor NGO sources provided any estimate of the number of political prisoners.

Fighting among clans and subclans, particularly over water and land resources, occurred throughout the year, particularly in the regions of Hiiraan, Galmudug, Lower and Middle Shabelle, and Sool. Revenge killings occurred. Government security forces and allied militias, other persons wearing uniforms, regional security forces, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Government and regional authorities executed persons without due process. Armed clashes and attacks killed civilians and aid workers. Impunity remained the norm. Military courts continued to try cases not legally within their jurisdiction and in proceedings that fell short of international standards. Federal and regional authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict, particularly in cases where defendants directly confessed their membership in al-Shabaab before the courts or in televised videos.

Under the Provisional Federal Constitution, Parliament must be elected through universal direct suffrage. But the Constitution also stipulates that parliamentary elections must be held according to a prescribed deadline, every four years. This means that parliamentary elections were due by the end of November 2020; however, it was impossible to satisfy both of these constitutional requirements. As the Constitutional Court had never been formed, there is no credible judicial body to resolve this constitutional problem. A solution required broad political agreement.

On 27 June 2020, the Chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission briefed the House of the People, stressing that “one person, one vote” elections could take place no earlier than March 2021 — only if manual voter registration were used — or in August 2021, if the Commission used biometric registration.

The House of the People passed resolutions in June 2020 to maintain the current women’s quota at 24 percent; increase the number of seats in the Upper House to 13 to give political representation to Benadir Region (which contains the country’s capital Mogadishu); approve a separate electoral modality for electing members from Somaliland to both Houses of the Parliament in Mogadishu; and agree on the allocation of seats for Parliament.

With elections slated for November delayed due to COVID-19, Somalia is at a critical juncture, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council 20 August 2020, pressing federal and state leaders to agree on voting modalities and bolster the capacity of national security forces meant to assume responsibilities in 2021.

“We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period,” said James Swan, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia. “Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the nation’s leaders to engage in dialogue.” He described a dilemma whereby Parliament must be elected through universal direct suffrage, according to the Provisional Federal Constitution. But the Constitution also stipulates that parliamentary elections must be held every four years — meaning that elections are due by the end of November. It is impossible to satisfy both requirements, he said.

After intense discussions between the (FGS) and the Federal Member States (FMS) over three months, agreement was finally reached on 17 September 2020 on a revised electoral model. The Electoral Constituency Caucus will replace the model contained in the recently passed electoral law, which proposed universal suffrage as required under the Constitution.

The new model is similar to the 2016 electoral process of clan-based indirect voting with minor changes including: 1) an increase in delegates from 51 to 101; 2) electoral constituencies increase from one to two locations in each FMS; and 3) and a 30 percent quota for women’s seats in Parliament. Representatives of the Upper House will be indirectly elected through the Federal Member State Parliaments.

The Federal Parliament approved the agreement on 26 September, and clarified that the current Parliament will remain in office until the new Parliament is sworn in. There is no role for the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), and political parties are excluded from the process. Planning for the new model was expected to begin on 1 November; however, the electoral timetable is not yet clear. The current term of the Parliament was due to expire in December 2020, while the President’s term of office expires in February 2021. It was expected that an electoral taskforce will be established both at national and federal member state levels to manage the electoral process.

In a joint statement issued in September, Somalia’s international partners took note of the agreement announced by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) President and the five Federal Member State (FMS) Presidents regarding the 2020/21 electoral process. In it, they acknowledged that the agreement resulted from a Somali-led and Somali-owned dialogue among FGS and FMS leaders, and said that they understood that some details of the agreed process are still to be clarified and additional stakeholders may be consulted.

The partners also observed, with regret, that the announced model fell short of the longstanding Somali goal of direct voting for members of parliament in this electoral cycle. The partners urged that the 2020/21 electoral process be free, fair, transparent and inclusive.

Looking to the future, the international partners encouraged rapid progress to establish other Somali democratic institutions, including the judicial services commission and the human rights commission, along with efforts to advance the review of the Provisional Federal Constitution and ensure respect for international commitments on human rights. In the statement, the partners also said they would also welcome a roadmap with clear milestones, agreed among Somali political leaders, to ensure decisive democratic progress going forward. In addition, they appealed to the FGS and FMS leaders to continue meeting regularly in a spirit of dialogue and compromise to address urgent national priorities, including security and economic reform as well as inclusive politics.

The signatories to this statement were: Belgium, Denmark, Ethiopia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, and the United Nations.

As at the end of September, 100 political parties had received provisional registration. The National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) stated that political parties represent the only way to compete politically and reminded the parties to adhere to the Political Parties Law as official registration will enable the political parties to compete in the federal elections.

On 11 June, the NIEC had met with the Parliamentary Committee on Internal Affairs, Regional Administration and Security to discuss their concerns related to the amendments and highlight timelines contradictions with the Electoral Law. The revised law will enable political parties to seek official registration if they meet the necessary requirements, which now include a US$30,000 registration fee. Another requirement for the official registration of political parties is to have 10,000 registered voters.

The NIEC has also noted the need to clarify this condition, since there has been no voter registration process to date and parties would not be able to meet this requirement and obtain official registration on time, according to the current electoral timelines.

By November 2020 Somalia’s elections were fast approaching but the proper arrangements for monitoring and dispute resolution are not in place. To give authorities time to make procedural reforms, and thus lower the odds of turmoil, ssome proposed that politicians should seek consensus behind a delay of one to three months.

One problem is the composition of proposed committees to handle electoral disputes. The central government and Somalia’s federal member states agreed to appoint the committees together. But a statement issued by 12 presidential candidates said the list was full of members from the intelligence service and some civil servants. Certain members of the political class tried to appeal to the US to reverse its decision. “The US decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against al-Shabaab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” said Somali senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf 04 December 2020 in reference to the al-Shabaab insurgency.

Both Somalia and international partners said that continued inclusive dialogue to build on the consensus-based agreement is necessary to ensure the timely implementation of credible and acceptable elections in order to preserve the Somali tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:45:53 ZULU