The autonomous state of Somaliland held elections on May 31st which yielded a surprise defeat for President Musa Bihi Abdi’s Kulmiye party. In the context of Somalia, of which Somaliland is technically a Federal Member State (although don’t say that to a Somalilander), it was also a surprisingly secure, smooth and transparent process.
Over 1 million people voted on May 31st at both the parliamentary and municipal levels in
Somaliland state, a quarter of the population. It was the first time the self-declared sovereign state has held elections since 2005. Voters elected 82 members House of Representatives as well as 249 local councillors. (The other element of the state’s bicameral system is the House of Elders, a sort of Upper House to the Lower House of the House of Representatives, which is composed of 82 clan appointees.)
A Surprise Defeat for President Bihi’s Ruling Party
In an unexpected development, the ruling Kulmiye Party of President Bihi failed to win a majority in parliament, securing only 30 seats: the rival Waddani and UCID parties secured 31 and 21 seats respectively and entered into a coalition. This was in spite (or perhaps because) of an aggressive campaign by state security forces against opposition politicians as well as journalists and social media commentators. After initial rejection of the results, the Kulmiye Party then changed tack and congratulated its rivals.
There were other unusual elements: the first ever member of a minority clan, Barkhad Batuun of the Gaboye clan, was elected to the parliament as part of the Waddani Party. Many of the new members are also young, a significant departure in a society that idolises elders (regardless of their ability).
Bad News for the Women
Sadly, while women voted in significant numbers – 47% of the turnout, an unprecedented number not just for Somaliland or Somalia but for Africa as a whole – none of the 13 women candidates who stood were elected. (There were a total of 246 candidates for the 82 positions.) Conservative Somaliland may be able to deliver stable elections, but it has yet to find a way to represent its womenfolk in a fair manner. Somaliland is by no means the perfect state.
What Happens Next?
So far calls for calm by President Bihi and the leaders of the two other parties have been heeded, a distinct contrast with the recent violence in Mogadishu around the national elections. While Bihi’s hold on the presidency is now considerably more tenuous than it was, the greater prize, that of convincing the world to recognise Somaliland as a nation state, may prove more important than his personal ambitions.
Meanwhile, the rest of Somalia will hopefully be heading to the polls within the next two months. The turnaround is remarkable, bringing it back where it was only a few weeks ago, on the brink of civil war. Many are crediting the Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, for the shift, but the reality is that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (nicknamed “Farmajo”) still lurks in the wings, poised to gain a second term. The acclaim for Prime Minister Roble in getting the elections back on track may prove to be the root of his downfall – Somalia is a place where good deeds seldom go unpunished.
Somaliland is represented in the Somali parliament by a group of Mogadishu-based quislings, over whom hangs a death sentence if they ever set foot in Somaliland. (Thankfully Somaliland has never actually implemented the ruling and immediately forgives those in the Mogadishu government as soon as they leave office.) But the contrast between the chaos in the rest of Somalia and Somaliland’s smooth elections and broader stability may also be a death sentence for the current structure of the Somali nation state.