By Osman H. Yusuf
To refresh our memory, the idea of an indirect election based on a 4.5 clans power-sharing formula for troubled Somalia was meant to be a way of finding an acceptable temporary solution to long-standing mistrust among the people and to bridge to a multi-party election in 2012/2016. It has not been the case then and now and the indirect election is seen by some as the preferred political path to power for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the country’s leadership has promised political stability, lasting peace, national reconciliation so that credible census and universal suffrage will take place within the next four years. It’s worth mentioning that previous attempts to prepare for the alternative –one-person-one -vote – fell short of its target due to unnecessary delays or perhaps lack of expertise and timely oversight of the work to be done by the electoral commission. Here we go again in 2021/2022 that finally the implementation of the delayed election is underway albeit on a gradual approach.
Regional governments have to seriously implement the indirect election and establish the necessary precautions to ensure a free and fair process bearing in mind that it could easily be corrupted with influence and money no matter how many legal and security measures are put in force. Regional leaders and clan elders have a chance of a lifetime to select or hand-pick the candidates they prefer, a rare opportunity that they will surely miss when next time the country turns to a general election on the basis of a multi-party system;
Candidates for Parliament will be selected by state leaders (Upper Chamber) and voted in by the regional parliament and in the case of the Lower Chamber candidates will be hand-picked by clan elders and community activists but voted in by a restricted electorate. In both cases pre-selected candidates have to face symbolic competition, not known to much of the world. Surprisingly the regional authorities have recently come up with a piecemeal approach to conduct the election at different times and for a few candidates at a time thus, protracting the election timetable set by the electoral commission perhaps under the pretext of a shortfall in funding or for security reasons.
The government must have been able to device a more just and fair way of holding the election. Critics and analysts alike could see the attitude of the authorities with reference to the current political situation as self-deception that blinds them from seeing the truth in light of prior experience. They seem to have ignored to tackle problems affecting social and political aspects of the society whose solutions will certainly require resources, energy and time in the future. Moreover, political leaders resist the extent of existing problems denying them from their own closed perspective and as a consequence the country is witnessing democratic backsliding that weaken the institutions meant to serve and protect the people. This behavior will result in the government losing its true character and legitimacy in the eyes of the people becoming instead an authoritarian regime at all levels where political and economic decisions are secured through power and influence by the ruling elite and its stalwarts at the center and peripheries for their own benefit. Moreover, the frustrating use of influence and money in the election which is difficult to track makes matters worse particularly for honest candidates while the whole environment is poisoned by the ongoing disruptive and destructive activities of property and innocent human lives at the hands of the insurgency in many parts of the country including the capital.
When election is compromised, one would ask whether the elected representatives can seriously play any meaningful role in exercising their duties of performing checks and balances on the executive branch while the public remains blinded by clan loyalty and therefore unaware of its constitutional role to hold them to account. So far public opinion has failed to scrutinize the consequences of political and economic decisions by leaders on people’s welfare. The absence of accountability and transparency will result in the wrongful use of the position of authority to promote self-interest at the expense of the general interest. The new Parliament will most probably be populated at least by a fair number of deputies with vision and determination who will hopefully take a different approach and avoid being subject, as experience has shown in the past, to interference on the part of national or regional authorities while performing their legislative duties and government oversight.
On the other hand, it looks like that after months of wrangling over the election both government and international community have finally overcome the hurdles that have obstructed the fulfilment of the agreed timetable. However, that timetable seems now to be in jeopardy as the process of the election has become slow, unpredictable and on piecemeal with turnout and outcome spread over an indefinite period of time. The indirect election should not be considered a panacea in Somalia or elsewhere as it can open the door to multiple variants suited to individual preferences among politically unstable countries. Critics will mostly likely interpret Somalia’s experience in isolation and might consider it mediocre and damaging enough to authorities’ reputation. One might erroneously think that the mix of democracy and clan politics, as in the case of Somalia and perhaps elsewhere, could evolve into an alternative to resort to when troubled countries face long run difficult circumstances and have to undertake elections in an attempt to restore political stability and move the country forward.
Conducting elections in a way significantly different from that adopted and implemented worldwide, whatever connotation it may be given, will result in a loss of legitimacy internationally as it diminishes generally accepted democratic principles.
Osman H. Yusuf