Are Somalia's international partners endorsing term extension?
MOGADISHU, Somalia - A statement issued by the National Independent Electoral Commission [NIEC] chair Halima Ismael on Saturday seems to have already received an endorsement from a section of Somalia's international partners, a move which could be interpreted as support for unprecedented term extensions.
The current term of the executive and parliament is set to expire by the end of 2020, and an election is anticipated to avoid plunging the country into a constitutional crisis, given that the Horn of Africa nation is expected to hold presidential elections the latest in February 2021.
But at parliament, and with pressure to organize a universal suffrage election, Ms. Ismael ruled out a timely election, suggesting that the earliest Somalia can conduct an election is March 2021. For a biometric election, she added, voters would have to wait for August next year.
Although the final decision on the model to be used rests with the regional and federal leaders who are set to meet next month, all indications are the FGS and the federal government is for the universal suffrage model, whose delivery would lead to term extension for the current regime.
Ben Fender, the British ambassador to Somalia, hailed NIEC for the delivery in parliament, terming the suggested model as "affordable". But cautiously, the envoy backed the planned talks between the federal states and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
"Delighted to see NIE Csomalia confirm direct elections can be held in early 2021 with on-the-day voter registration [the more affordable model]," he said. "Welcome plans for FGS-FMS Presidents to discuss soonest, with a view to a broader consensus on the way ahead and completing the Parly process."
On its Twitter account, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia [UNSOM] also endorsed the statement from the NIEC, adding that the technical options would help solve issues surrounding a one-person-one-vote model.
"The UN in Somalia thanks NIEC Somalia Chairperson Halima Ismael for presenting technical options to achieve direct voting for Somalis as early as March 2021," it noted, in a statement that technically endorses postponement of elections.
"Now that NIEC Somalia Chairperson Halima has presented electoral options, UN in Somalia urges broad consultation among Somali political leaders to reach consensus on way forward - the planned meeting of Federal Govt. and the Federal Member States is a good next step," read the statement.
Similar sentiments were echoed by the European Union, which also acknowledged the presentations by NIEC but added that "We also insist on the need of political consensus based on agreed principles: the opening of political space [from selection to election] and timely elections."
But the sentiments have triggered fury from the opposition bigwigs in Somalia, something that could paralyze the much-anticipated talks between FGS and FMS, which have already been impaired by ongoing legislation in the Lower House, which had been opposed by federal states.
Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the Wadajir leader, accused members of the international community of "forcing" their own model in Somalia, adding that the country's stability is fundamental than someone's "diplomatic success".
"Some members of the international community want to force their own election model on Somalia. Somalia is bigger than a tick box and its stability is more important than someone's diplomatic success," he said. "Those supporting NIEC r complicit a term extension, which leads to instability."
Rashid Abdi, an analyst on Horn of Africa security and politics, seems to be agreeing with Warsame, insisting that the electoral model should be agreement among all stakeholders instead of "forcing" predetermined arrangements in the country.
"Abdishakur makes a valid point. The International Community risks big reputational damage in Somalia unless it rethinks its support for this partisan and ill-conceived project to force through an unworkable electoral model," he tweeted.
Traditionally, Somalia has been embracing a clan-based model commonly known as 4.5 systems due to diversity in social-political setups among the Somalis. Observers insist that the universal suffrage model should be implemented in the next cycle of elections after the much-anticipated polls.
Already, the Forum for National Parties [FNP] under the stewardship of former Presidents Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has called for the resignation of NIEC, accusing it of "failing" to hold elections in time. The NIEC proposals, FNP added, paves way for term extensions.
But in a tweet on Sunday, Ms. Ismael denied claims that her term is working in cohorts with the federal government to extend the term, adding that: "I urge all stakeholders to stand with NIEC to make this historic election a reality. The commission will continue to be guided by the constitution and all other legal frameworks."
Parliament has already passed key legislators such as representations for Benadir and Somaliland regions, besides approving the 30 percent quota for women representation, which federal states had asked for time until the July Conference.