How Somalia can survive from 'artificial' electoral crisis
MOGADISHU, Somalia - With the National Independent Electoral Commission [NIEC] having ruled out a possible universal suffrage poll this year, Somalia has been caught in a predicament that could evoke memories of the past, a move which could soil all the gains made so far.
During her address to Parliament on Saturday, NIEC chairwoman Halima Ismael said "the earliest we can go to elections in March next year" and the statement has since been endorsed by the international community, key among them the US and European Union.
For manual one-person-one-vote elections, she said, Somalis should prepare for March 2021, adding that biometric elections can only be held five months later. Already, the commission seems to have settled on the universal suffrage model.
But the suggestion has already triggered heated internal debate, with a section of opposition leaders and federal states accusing the Federal Government of Somalia of "plotting" an "illegal" term extension. The current tenure for parliament and executive ends in November.
The meeting between FGS and FMS scheduled for July 5-8 has been subjected into limbo following the decision by Puntland to boycott the invitation, arguing that parliament has continued to "blatantly" pass legislation without honoring a request by member states calling for the halting of debates until the meeting between the two parties is held.
And the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based Think Tank, now says an urgent settlement is required for Somalia to enjoy stability. While terming the situation "man-made", HIPC adds that the country's political leadership should explore a "politically negotiated indirect elections".
The elections, it said, would enable the country to hold polls within the constitutional framework, a move which would rescue the country from plunging into a constitutional crisis. The stakeholders, HIPC said, would decide a quick and fairly acceptable model for elections.
"As we outlined in July 2019 and May 2020, it is likely that a broad-based negotiated process would ultimately result in indirect elections, the electoral modality that is most acceptable to key stakeholders [FGS, FMS, and registered political parties]," it said.
The most ideal indirect elections would pave way for clan-based model commonly known as 4.5 which has been opposed in previous outings but the HIPC says it's one of the immediate remedies to a looming political crisis in Somalia, despite the fact that it's not widely embraced in Somalia.
"Understandably, many Somali and external actors are deeply uncomfortable with yet another indirect election, given the odious aftertaste of the 2016-2017 process," HIPC said. "But the much-touted OPOV has proven elusive, and a unilateral extension by the current officeholders would have dire legal, political, and stability implications.
We must also emphasize that the current state of affairs is a collective failure."
The predicament, HIPC says, was orchestrated by FGS, FMS, and the opposition, who "have failed to demonstrate leadership". Instead, the institute adds, "some have engaged in harmful practices that have continuously undermined national institutions and impeded state-building efforts".
"They have been dismissive or selective in accepting the decisions of national institutions, even while their representatives – senators, lower house parliamentarians, cabinet ministers—have been included in these decisions," the institute said.
In case the indirect elections are impossible in Somalia, HIPC said, the country should also consider a politically negotiated term extension. This set-up, it said, would pave way for a Government of National Unity, which can run until the country is able to organize mutually acceptable elections in Somalia.
"This would require all stakeholders to press the reset button and form a Government of National Unity (GNU) as part of a larger national reconciliation," the institute said. This system had been tried before and it saw opposing sides forming government in Somalia from 2004-11.
While acknowledging that the options may not be ideal hence unpalatable, the institute squarely blames all stakeholders for dragging the electoral process in Somalia, adding the NIEC should have issued the warning much earlier.
"This crisis could have been averted long ago if the FGS and FMS had effectively collaborated and done their jobs, and if the NIEC had warned the Somali public much earlier that an OPOV election is impossible on the original timetable," it added.