EDITORIAL: A rigged election is more dangerous than none

Somali women in Mogadishu celebrate after the presidential elections on 9 Feb 2017. [Photo: Anadolu Agency]

EDITORIAL | There is no perfect election, they say. But every election must have a significant rate of acceptability: The ability by participants to obey the results, even when there may be irregularities here and there.

Somalia’s situation these past weeks has shown all signs of one that won’t be accepted. And it starts with delays, a controversial list of delegates, and the perceived bias in selecting candidates.

In Puntland and South West, where Lower House elections had kicked off, it left in its trail a pile of complaints. One famous exclusion was that of former Speaker of the Lower House Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari. Aspiring to defend his seat in South West, Jawari found himself omitted from the list of contenders at the 11th hour.

There may have been genuine reasons to omit him, but the manner in which the local electoral managers proceeded with the polls, even after being advised to delay by the federal body so that adequate discussions are held, was itself curious. In Puntland, some contenders have also threatened a boycott, if their concerns will not be addressed, in what risks further delays to the election calendar.

As a country seeking to rebuild institutions, an election, however imperfect, should at least carry its people along. There are those who would have preferred universal suffrage, for example, but made to live with indirect elections because it was the only realistic way of bringing in leaders with legitimacy.

That legitimacy will not be found in a rushed, rigged, and inconsiderate election. This week, the opposition presidential caucus, Council of Presidential Candidates, announced they will have nothing to do with predetermined elections. A boycott in these polls is unfortunate, but perhaps it is the best protest there is.

Somalis, in spite of the challenges, do not want an election simply for the sake of it. There must be accepted to the procedures, nominations, voting regulations and it must carry fairness.

As we reported before, this election had a stench before. Lots of spy agents from the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) had swarmed regions as contenders. They had infiltrated local electoral chambers, posing as candidates or delegates. Most of them were put on nomination lists in utter disregard of the procedures available.

The script seemed that the federal government was using state machinery to push through a favourite candidate. Today, all federal state leaders have in one way or another been accused of trying to elbow opponents too, making these polls a vicious cycle.

But we have had warning signs before. Back in April, the security agencies were split almost in half with one faction siding with the sitting government and the other allied to the opposition. The cause was a rift over the treatment of opposition aspirants, and it included a controversial attack on their hotel.

If there was any lesson to learn from that, it should be that an election where opposition contenders can’t have the same rights to seek an election is a very dangerous one.

Indeed, Somalia may know that the very election was delayed largely because leaders were supposedly looking for a common, fairground. If they really found that common ground, it is imperative that all authorities do not seek to arm-twist participants.


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