HARGEISA, 23 February 2010 (Somalilandpress) – On 16 February, the ISG members held their regular monthly meeting at the Academy of Peace and Development (APD) to discuss and assess the overall progress made on the six-point Agreement. The meeting was sponsored by the Social Research and Development Institute (SORADI). It was moderated by its Acting-Director, Haroon H Ahmed Yusuf. 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 (SORADI), 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 political atmosphere
The national political mood continues to be focused on the much awaited Presidential Election. And though every stakeholder would like to hear a date set for the election, yet no one is willing at this stage to push the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to set a hasty date, which can lead to a situation like the past disappointments.
As the momentum gained after signing the six-point agreement (on 30th September, 2009) is slowly dissipating, the goodwill it created among the parties is also being slowly eroded. Furthermore, the public is evaluating the effect and influences each of the recent political disputes within the Somaliland’s key national institutions may have on the all encompassing presidential election.
These include the recent dispute among the Chairman of the Guurti and his two deputies, which threatened to open up a whole set of other problems, which could derail the preparation for the elections. The Guurti quarrel is alleged to be over power-sharing among the chairing team. If so, they are encouraged to put their acts together and solve their internal problems.
On the other hand, present practice of all political parties launching thinly veiled political campaigns could be violating Somaliland election laws and existing codes of conduct and may lead to increased tensions before we even reach the official campaign period.
A further source of concern for Somaliland’s fragile democracy is when the key Government institutions do not cooperate. The primary purpose of Parliament in a democratic society is to oversee the performance of the Executive Branch. Recent experience from the Parliament and Executive Branch is not in any way helping the credibility of the Somaliland institutions. Lack of overall cooperation among these institutions coupled with the increasingly evident institutional weaknesses in both Houses of Parliament may lead to a constitutional crisis of serious proportions if not dealt with sooner than later.
III. On the NEC Performance
The NEC is still enjoying the trust of all stakeholders and is making good progress in the preparation for the election. They have re-built good working relations with the international donors and started filling their organisational capacity gaps. Their strategy is to implement activities in parallel to safe run up time to the Presidential election. Some of NEC’s most significant accomplishments to date include;
* Approval of the terms of reference for the independent expert assessment.
* Participated in and supported the independent assessment, carried out jointly by NEC and the Electoral Reform International Service (ERIS), as called for by the 6 point Agreement.
* Managed to get funding green light from donors to start the implementation of key activities while the overall budget is still being finalized and agreed upon.
* Established and operationalized the recruitment and tender evaluation panels
* Developed recruitment policies and procedures, and hired key Headquarters staff, as well as, 90% of the regional and district staff..
* Supported the recruitment of International election specialists, eleven of which have been recruited.
* Developed a Voter Education concept paper to be presented to the international and NEC specialists for their use.
* Developed and discussed the NEC By-Laws, which are currently in the final stages of approval.
* Drafted the political parties Code of Conduct, which will be shared and negotiated with the parties.
IV. Action Awaited From NEC
1. NEC needs to address the following issues as soon as possible:
– Though no one is advising NEC to rush into hasty elections, there are legitimate concerns that need to be noted. Setting the date of the presidential election is not only central to the six-point agreement, but will also give some kind of perspective to the elections of the other national institutions. Setting the presidential election date is also important for the mobilization of international election observes.
– The launching of campaigning of political parties is a legal issue. Therefore, all stakeholders need to analyse and agree what constitutes a political campaign before it becomes a problem and causes damage to NEC’s credibility. And if any particular party is found to be breaching the laws and the existing codes of conduct, it should face sanctions.
– NEC is expected to address also the issue of Election Monitoring Board. Is there need to activate it now?
– The Media plays a critical role in the conduct of elections process. NEC needs to engage the media and to push through their updated press code of conduct.
2. Voter registration (Server)
Publishing a final voter registration list is a very important milestone for Somaliland that needs to be crossed, in order to hold the Somaliland presidential election. The experts have done an initial evaluation of the server containing the electoral list and they have started the clean up process. However, there are a number of sensitive issues that need to be addressed carefully by NEC.
* In a recent press conference the NEC indicated that the voter list preparation can take 2 to 3 months…. there has been some cautious but clearly itchy reactions from the political parties
* A voter list display period at the polling stations is also planned: each voter will be told that he/she will vote only once despite the illegal multiple or double registration the person has done during the registration.
* There are also plans for some of form of validation process, which may include NEC issuing new ID cards.
Therefore, NEC needs to:
* Inform the public with VERY LARGE letters about these plans and their objectives – there should not be any chance given to misinterpretation and misinformation.
* Consider the repercussions (if any) of an open-ended election period. How long would the immediate stakeholders and the public at large wait?
V. Recommendations for the way forward
1. Let the NEC take its time in the preparation for the election, but be transparent about it plans
2. Voter education should start early
3. Ballot papers need to be ordered as early as possible to safe time.
4. NEC should apply sanctions defined in the Electoral Law for offences committed against it and against other agreements reached by stakeholders
5. The House of Elders needs to settle its internal dispute and attend to other urgent national matters awaiting it.
6. The legitimacy and legality of current Local Councils, whose original and additional terms ended, need to be addressed.
7. The House of Representatives needs to start amending its Election Law, to lay the ground for its approaching election