Somaliland on Tuesday elected an opposition MP as Speaker of Parliament. Abdirisaq Ahmed Khalif, an MP from the opposition Waddani Party obtained 42 votes in a closely-fought election.
The debate at the House was raucous and the buildup to the poll was marked by high tension and intemperate language, at times. Both the opposition and ruling party used every trick to ensure they clinched the coveted Speaker of Parliament post – constitutionally, the third most powerful post in the whole of government.
That in the end, the process was concluded in characteristic Somaliland way – with integrity and unity and without the heat associated with such elections elsewhere – speaks to Somaliland’s strong will to consolidate its democracy and consensus-style politics For weeks the nation was on tenterhooks. Heated political rhetoric was escalating. The two sides sparred over a whole host of issues, especially allegations the ruling party Kulmiye was using the power of incumbency to poach opposition MPs to create a majority able to swing the vote for the House Speaker. The claim was reinforced when a group of MPs split away from the opposition ranks and announced they would “go into an alliance” with the ruling party. The opposition Waddani and UCID parties between them had enough votes to create a tactical voting alliance. It was clear Kulmiye stood little chance.
As is customary, President Bihi and the elders were determined to stave off a debacle over the Speakership contest. Hardliners in the ruling party, aggrieved by the poor showing at the polls (as well as loss of Hargeisa Mayorship to the opposition) wanted Bihi to go hard and play dirty to pre-empt the prospect of the opposition winning the Speaker’s seat. But as has become clear now, Bihi is determined to put the interest of Somaliland before that of his party. He believes in consolidating democracy and overcoming the culture of “ku qabso ku qadi mayside” (chronic and unjustified wrangling) is the best way for Somaliland to shine on the regional and world stage and to buttress its claim to full recognition by the
But we must be careful in not overselling the influence of recognition politics over electoral politics. The idea that Somaliland’s democratic gains are cosmetic and designed for the sole purpose of winning recognition is unfair. The Somaliland elite is instinctively democratic, believes in a democratic future and is aware democracy is its own worth.
What animates the Somaliland elite is the need to consolidate democracy, strengthen stability and deepen their unique system of consensus politics. And this seems to have been the main focus of President Muse Bihi when he reacted to the outcome of the
“This was not a victory for one man or a party. Today all of Somaliland has won. I welcome and congratulate the Speaker, the First and Second Deputy Speakers, and I congratulate the speaker that was running against him. It was a close contest. It is a democracy and I welcome the maturity he showed and how he conceded.” said President Bihi in a speech to congratulate the new officials. The president also invited them to the Presidential Palace for the traditional tea and photo op.
The new Speaker hails from the restive Sool Region where competition for control and influence over the clans is at its most intense between Somaliland and Puntland. The city of Las Anod (Laas Caanod) erupted in joy at the news of Abdirisaq Ahmed’s victory.
Abdirisaq Ahmed Khalif held a string of senior cabinet posts in previous governments. He is widely believed to be a safe pair of hands; a leader steeped in Somaliland’s democratic culture and traditions.
We wish him the best in his new role.
By Rashid Abdi (PhD) Senior Analyst, Sahan Research