How Lower House defiance could plunge Somalia into political uncertainty and potential chaos
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Somalia's hope to hold elections hangs on a thread, with Lower House and unpreparedness of the National Independent Electoral Commission [NIEC] being the most existential threat, following the most recent developments in the Horn of Africa nation.
The country is now grappling with the uncertainty of holding timely elections in compliance with the constitution, with the frosty relationship between the federal government of Somalia and member states also being one of the challenges which the nation is facing.
Already, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has called for a meeting between FGS and federal states in Mogadishu on July 5-8 after holding a virtual meeting with regional leaders and had all agreed to have debates on legislation regarding the electoral law halted in parliament.
However, the Lower House under Speaker Mohamed Mursal has continued to spearhead the legislation, further dwindling the possibility of reconciliation between FGS and FMS. So far, the house has enacted three legislations which could further escalate the crisis.
Last week, the Lower House approved proposed 30 percent quota for women representation before settling on the representation from secessionist Somaliland, which is set to be represented in the Senate.
On Saturday, the house also approved representation of Benadir in Upper House, with 13 Senators now set to represent the region that hosts the capital, Mogadishu. During the debate, 142 MPs voted in favor of the proposal which has since triggered divisions.
72 legislators from Jubaland, Puntland, and the South-West States protested the decision to have 13 people representing Banadir, arguing that it violates articles 79, 82, and 83 of the provisional constitution. Should the country consider increasing representations in the Upper House? article 72 must be amended, they said.
But the decision to allocate Benadir seats in Senate has been welcomed by Mogadishu Mayor Omar Filish, who also doubles as the governor for the Benadir region. He's among those invited for July Conference for discussion on impending elections.
"It's a new dawn for the great and resilient people of Benadir as they have full representation in the upper house of the parliament. Congratulations on this long-awaited achievement," he said in a tweet.
"The law-abiding and peace-loving people of Benadir are the largest taxpayers and contributors of state-building and peacebuilding efforts in Somalia. Well done," added the Mayor, who took over last year.
Despite calls to halt the debates until the FMS and FGS meeting, the Lower House has continued to approve sections of the parliamentary ad-hoc committee report, further irking tensions from Senate, which has since termed the move "unconstitutional".
Last week, Senate Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi insisted that at least 27 clauses have been tampered with by the Lower House, arguing that the ad-hoc committee report was altered to suit certain political interests against the will of the people.
The approvals could now raise legitimacy issues and probably plunge the country into an unprecedented political crisis since its likely to affect impending negotiations between stakeholders on the right model and number of representatives from Somaliland and Banadir regions.
Farmajo, critics argue, has been hell-bent to use the Lower House where he enjoys substantial support to have certain legislation passed in its favor. While it's not clear if he asked the house to suspend debates, some of his handlers have openly backed the ongoing legislations despite an existing agreement to have them halted.
Abdinur Mohamed, Villa Somalia's spokesperson, confirmed on his Twitter that Farmajo has been pushing for approval of representations for Mogadishu, further acknowledging that the president is engineering ratification of the proposals despite agreeing to have the debates halted.
"This was long overdue. The Lower House has finally done the right thing and responded to Farmajo’s request to grant Benadir the representation it deserves in the Upper House," he said in a tweet. "This approval is a testament FGS is committed to ensuring fair representation for our citizens."
The most topical issue has been the model of elections, which has informed the July meeting between the two parties. But in his previous addresses, Farmajo insisted that the country will hold universal suffrage polls, a move which has been faulted by the opposition.
While both parties acknowledge the radical political reforms including holding the one-person-one-vote elections, opposition bigwigs insist that the proposal should be effected after December polls. To some of them, the remaining time cannot guarantee a timely election and could lead to an unprecedented extension of the term of the current administration.
NIEC asks for a delay of 2020-21 polls
National Independent Electoral Commission [NIEC] chair Halima Ismael Yarey on Saturday told parliament that the earliest the country will go for an election is March 2021. It is this scenario that the opposition wants to the art, arguing that postponing the election will be contrary to the constitutional provisions.
According to her, the NIEC can only deliver a manual universal poll on March 2021. For the biometric elections, she added, the commission will be fully prepared by August 2021, long after the expiry of the current tenure of Executive and Parliament.
Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the leader of the Wadajir party, insisted that NIEC has "failed to do real assessment of security, political and financial challenges" that impede a universal suffrage election. "They just carried out simple quotations and little survey. The process is now in deadlocked," he said in a tweet.
To hold the election, he noted, "Somalia needs to finalize the electoral law which isn’t against the constitution and that need - inter alia - to consult the FMS & other stakeholders to incorporate their feedback". "The NIEC has failed and they have to resign to pave the way for the stakeholders to consult on how to conduct a timely, agreed-upon peaceful election."
Somalia's international partners have been pushing for a one-person-one-vote model, but the statement by NIEC now seems to throw organizers off balance, since the opposition is determined to have elections held within the framework of the constitution.
But despite the chance to have stakeholders negotiating about the probable model, the events in parliament and NIEC's unpreparedness throws the country into a possible political conflict, which could derail negotiations between the involved parties.
Afyare Elmi, a scholar, and researcher contend that the turnout of events would now force stakeholders to have a constructive dialogue on the way forward, something which is now being sabotaged by Lower House, which is hell-bent to pass legislation without input from stakeholders.
"For Somalia's-election/dispensation, the Election Commission puts the ball back in the court of the govt & asks for more time [9 or 13 months for paper-based or biometric]; completed laws, security, budget [$46M or 69M depending on model]; and political agreement. Interesting," he notes.
The future of Somalia now depends on the much-anticipated stakeholder meeting in Mogadishu but this may after all not make sense due to impasse in parliament, an institution which is entrusted with the passing of key legislation.
The most immediate challenge is settling on the model which would allow the country to go to polls before the end of 2020.