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Somalia's hope to hold elections lies in parliament and electoral board, UN insists

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online

MOGADISHU, Somalia - After three decades of civil war and imminent Al-Shabaab menace, the hope to restore democracy in Somalia lies within its internal institutions, the UN has said, noting indispensable roles both parliament and National Independent Elections board will play in coming weeks.

The NIEC under the stewardship of Halima Yarey, has scheduled May 27 for an address to Parliament, in which among others, the commission will announce the timeline and key dates for much-anticipated polls, which have elicited sharp differences between the opposition and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

Also expected to present recommendations for the path to the next polls is the parliamentary ad-hoc committee, which has been fixing some of the critical issues that were omitted in the controversial electoral law, which was signed in February by the president, amid protests from federal states.

Some of the issues that are yet to be agreed upon include the designation of constituency boundaries, allocation of seats for Banadir region and secessionist Somaliland, the guarantee on 30 percent quota for women seats, and the amendments to amendments to the Political Parties Law to conform to the Electoral Code.

And in a speech issued on Thursday during the United Nations Security Council meeting, UN Special Envoy to Somalia James Swan noted that "Somalia institutions will play a key role in determining the future of the country in the coming weeks".

The UN has been consistent about the one-person-one-vote electoral model as opposed to the traditional clan-based system, popularly known as 4.5 model. This approach, Swan had said in previous engagement with stakeholders, will "expand" democratic space by allowing citizens to make their choices.

But the approach has been subjected to frequent and coordinated criticism from the opposition, which cites lack of "participatory approach" by the federal government on controversial electoral law, with some member states such as Puntland and Jubaland accusing the administration of "plotting for a term extension".

The standoff has also invoked radical recommendations from apolitical groups such as the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies, a Somali Think Tank group, which ruled out universal suffrage polls, citing "limited time" and lack of "consensus" among stakeholders in Somalia.

In its recommendations, the group under Abdirashid Hashi, a former Villa Somalia director, proposed an Expansion model, which is projected to increase the number of delegates participating in elections from 14,025 to around 221,000, with each MP allocated around 1,000 votes under the scheme.

"The EPM envisages that the more people who vote, the stronger the integrity of the election and the less money changing hands," it said. "The proposed EPM option will also help to fulfill the quota of women in parliament as well as Somaliland representation."

Depending on what Somalis will decide, Swan told UNSC, all partners should be ready to "mobilize the technical support and financial resources" needed for implementation. The National Electoral Security Task Force, he added, "must also accelerate to ensure the necessary security arrangements for voting to take place".

Although the UN is keen to have credible elections held in the country for the first time since independence, the lack of consensus seems to be worrying them, thus the emphasis to have broader dialogue among the stakeholders before the elections.

"Equally importantly, there will be a need for consensus building among political leaders and across Somali society to ensure that the elections enjoy broad support and acceptance," the envoy, who represents UN chief Antonio Guterres, told the UNSC.

In addition to the focus on elections, he said, there is a need to focus on state-building priorities as the main approach towards establishing a functional state in Somalia, where the rule of law is appreciated by all state actors and non-actors.

Some of these include the formation of the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Services Commission, and an independent Human Rights Commission, as well as completing the review of the Federal Constitution, he noted.

To ensure democratic competition during the polls, the state has also been challenged to give an enabling environment that protects freedom of speech, assembly, and organization, without subjecting sections of the population into unprecedented prejudice.

"I call on the Federal Government and the Federal Member States to ensure these are fully respected, especially during this critical election year," he said, amid escalating detentions and harassment targeting both the opposition and the media in recent weeks.

His speech corroborates with that of Guitteres, who condemned the antagonism between the federal government and member states, calling for "urgent dialogue" to ease tensions in the Horn of Africa nation. The Secretary-General had singled out the Gedo crisis as one of "unnecessary" acts which "derail" efforts to rebuild Somalia.

The federal government had deployed troops to the region in a move that was seen as a secret plot to dethrone Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe. The US is among international actors who castigated the decision by Farmajo, arguing that it could pave the way for resurgence of Al-Shabaab.

The term for both the executive and parliament ends in October, and there were fears that the current administration could invoke article 53 of the electoral law to suspend the polls due to the current Coronavirus pandemic.

And for Somalia now to move forward, the decision by the National Independent Electoral Commission and Parliamentary ad-hoc committee will define its destiny. Villa Somalia has remained mum over alleged plans to delay polls, despite persistent allegations from the opposition.


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