HARGEISA, 25 October (Somalilandpress) – In their 24th October meeting the ISG members discuss the implementation of recent six-point Agreement and lessons of recent political conflict in Somaliland. The meeting was sponsored by the Social Research and Development Institute (SORADI). It was moderated by its Director, Dr. Mohamed Fadal. The Somaliland Independent Scholar’s Group (ISG) members are all long-term participants of Somaliland rebuilding and democratization process, who are considered to be highly competent to provide an objective analysis and strategy to address the issues at hand. The ISG members are: Abdi-shakur Sh Ali-Jowhar (Psychiatrist and political analyst: warkamaanta.com), Amina Mohamoud Warsame (Executive Director of NAGAAD); Abdilkadir H Ismail Jirde (Ex-Deputy Speaker and Member of Parliament- now travelling), Shukri H. Ismail (Former National Electoral Commissioner and Member of African Democracy Forum and Chair of Candle Light); Ibrahim Jama Ali –Raite (Member of Parliament and Lawyer), Fawsi Sh. Yonis (Somaliland Lawyer’s Association); Abdi Ahmed Nour (Forum for Peace and Governance-FOBAG), Bobe Y. Duale (Research Coordinator, APD), Haroon H Ahmed Qulumbe (ActionAid), Jafar Mohamed Gadaweyne (SONSAF); Mohamed Hassan Ibrahim (Researcher-APD), Suad Ibrahim Abdi (Researcher-APD); Wais Muse (Executive Director of Samatalis Coalition of Human Rights)), Dr. Mohamed Fadal, Director of (SORADI);Muse Abdi Elmi (U. of Hargeisa; Dean Academic Affairs) Dr. Yusuf Kariye (Researcher in Anthropology; Hinda Mohamed Jama (an Associate of Burao University); Dr. Aden Abokor(Progressio Country Rep.)..
II. The Current Climate of Cooperation Among the Key Stakeholders
The Somaliland political temperature continues to be moderate, since the signing of the six-point Agreement (See www.soradi.org for the Agreement text). It is remarkable that the top leadership of the political parties, the President and Chairman of the House of Elders have so far refrained from attacking each other through the media, but instead have started the culture of discussing matters face to face. It is also remarkable that the President has initiated most of these meetings, something that the Somaliland people have expected from him all along.
Therefore, the process of constituting a new National electoral Commission (NEC) has been accomplished. The opposition parties and the two Houses of Parliament have also compromised on several outstanding issues including that they accepted to go along with the President’s uncompromising demand to change their first choice candidates for the NEC. The House of Elders, Kulmiye and UCID all changed their first choice candidates. On the contrary the President’s choices were not subject to such scrutiny from UCID, Kulmiye or even the Guurti.
The situation prevailing in Somaliland before the key stakeholders decided to go on the route of dialogue and compromise was quite explosive:
It was perceived that the President was seeking a one-year extension of his term from the House of Elders. Discussion of the issue in the House floor was concluded on a Thursday and the voting was set to take place on the next day Friday morning and could not even wait for the Saturday.
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In the House of Representatives an impeachment process against the President was tabled as an agenda for discussion. This agenda was being pushed by the opposition and it was believed to have a significant support in the House
From another front, it was alleged that UDUB members were pushing motions through both Houses of Parliament to unseat the two Speakers and replace them with their own supporters.
The two opposition parties discussed openly, with their Chairmen on the record, to form a joint parallel government, if the President succeeded to get an extension of one year from the House of Elders.
Public demonstrations, much more ferocious than before, were expected to follow the above moves.
Such an explosive situation has been diffused, people believe, by the President climbing down from the one-year extension demand and convincing his Guurti supporters to go along with the comprise route. The Guurti vote on the Friday morning was unanimous, to diffuse the crisis. What changed the President’s mind is beyond the scope of this paper and will be debated long after the event, but what matters is that with that decision sanity has been restored in the Somaliland politics. It also shows the power of the President’s actions whether he chooses to go along the dialogue and compromise route or otherwise. The hope now is that, the President and all other key stakeholders continue to cooperate to fulfil the responsibilities they have for the Somaliland people to lead them to free and fair elections.
III. On The New NEC
It took about tree weeks to constitute a new NEC and that is relatively fast in the Somaliland standards. However, in this regard one can cite few unfulfilled expectations: There is no female member again. Somaliland had only one female Commissioner and her performance, style of work and integrity has been exemplary. So many other sisters like her are aspiring to serve their nation as Commissioners. How long should we continue to deny them that right? Otherwise, the ISG considers this selection of the new Commissioner of a higher calibre than the lot they are replacing. The ISG welcomes the new NEC and commits itself to support it to face the challenge of leading this country to free, fair and peaceful elections.
The parliamentary approval process was expected to be rigorous. A House sub-committee was assigned to screen the individual members if they meet the criteria clearly outlined in the Electoral Law. However, the committee took five wasted days, because in the approval day, their efforts had no bearing on the House floor discussions and voting results and the process was anything but rigorous. The voting results were sixty-five votes for each of the seven members; there were no opposing votes or abstentions. Is that a normal thing? Certainly not, and the house members need to do a lot of soul searching on the matter; at end of the day, the vote is an individual matter and the MP is accountable for his or her decision. Finally it was not fair to the individual Commissioners, who came from different backgrounds and professions, to be dolled out with equal score marks from all 65 members of parliament voting.
The ISG wants to warn the new NEC not to be rushed into a hasty and ill-prepared hand-over ceremony. A proper audit of the institution has to be commissioned to avoid future complications of their work – The Financial matters, the institutional assets including equipment and transport and the Voter Registration equipment, materials and documents all need to be clearly accounted for.
Further more, all key stakeholders including the international partners have to be fully involved in the hand-over process. The new members will need to be trained to do their job properly. It is also important to build the structure of the organization. The Somaliland Government and the partner international community need to cooperate to build the institutional structure and capacity of NEC. On their part the new members need to take the responsibility to choose their international counterpart agency and with the proper contractual arrangements and MOUs and in a transparent and independent manner. In doing so, they will have to keep in mind that the Somaliland people are expecting them to organize the Presidential election in the fastest possible time.
IV. Key Milestones in the Agreement
Milestones to cross include: New NEC is constituted; Expert assessment delivered; Final voter Registration List adopted; NEC sets the election date; and the Presidential term extended accordingly.
Among the above milestones only the first one is crossed so far – constituting the new NEC. That itself is a great success for Somaliland and the key stakeholders in this process need to be commended. However, the next most critical milestone is that the NEC sets the date for the Presidential election. To achieve that, NEC needs to facilitate the work of the Expert Assessment Team and also the production and adoption of the Final Voter Registration List. It is incumbent upon NEC in collaboration with its international partners to ensure this process does not complicate the steps that will follow, in terms of the time it takes and the quality of the results attained. Furthermore, NEC should use the prevailing climate of collaboration among key stakeholder to renew the commitment of the three political parties to accept whatever final list the neutral experts come up with. The goal is to fulfil people’s right to elect their President and not to fight over a list.
V. Recommendations for the Lessons not yet learnt
The two Houses of Parliament need urgently to revisit Electoral Law to enrich it with the lessons learnt from the recent experience.
To make the criteria for the selection of the Commissioners more defined and measurable
To remove what is not working in these criteria, such as the age limit of 60 years
To define clearly what should the approval procedure of the House of Representatives entail other than voting?
To define the legality of a pre-screening process before the list is submitted to the Parliament.
This refers to the controversy over the pre-screening conducted by the President on other member’s candidates.
The mandate of the National Electoral Commission need to be clarified more and on the basis of our recent experiences. This refers to the unilateral decision taken by NEC to suspend the Voter Registration results.
There should be sanctions defined in the Electoral Law for offences committed against it and against other agreements reached by stakeholders.
The Issue of Gender equity in the National Electoral Commission needs to be addressed by all the key stakeholders.