Op-ed: The Dawn of Democracy in Puntland: A Promising Start and a Hopeful Future
On Monday, Oct 25 marked a great milestone for the people of Puntland, as residents of Ufeyn, Eyl, and Qardho districts stood in long lines from dawn to dusk to cast their votes for the first time in the first popular local government elections ever held in Puntland.
As the Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission TPEC has stated, out of 46,839 registered voters, more than thirty-six thousand potential voters have received their voting cards. This is a huge indication of the level of engagement from the public and their desire to participate in the political process in a substantial way.
At the polling stations in the three districts, there were local and international observers aiming to observe the accuracy of the procedures and the fairness of the process. Representatives of each of the eight competing political associations were present at each polling station. Free media who were broadcasting this wonderful process to the people and documenting it for posterity were to be seen at every polling station. Disciplined police officers were discharging the duty of ensuring the safety of all involved. Voting started at 6 am in the morning and it was to be concluded at 6 pm after sunset.
There are four hundred forty-nine candidates from eight political associations running for eighty-seven seats in the local councils of Eyl (27 seats), Ufeyn (27), and Qardho (33). For the last months, a welcome addition to the life of these districts were candidate stickers, megaphones, campaign songs, public debates, door-to-door campaigning, and back-and-forth movement of political operatives, campaigners, media, civil society, and leadership of political associations in preparation for this great day.
At Qardho where today I had the privilege to visit and observe several polling stations during the election, voters were beyond moved and euphoric to exercise a most sacred political right which is to elect their local representatives for the coming five years. They were congratulating each other and the bystanders on the historic significance of this occasion and the peaceful and civilized manner the election was going.
Some of the established western democracies that serve as an exemplar for us in the third world have evolved over time to include some segments of the society who were disenfranchised at the beginning such as women and people of color, the promising reality here is that all people have a right to participate in the process. Old and young; men and women; able and disabled; all were equals today as they should be in exercising their rights of self-determination and participation in the management of public life.
Interest and political awareness of Somali people are high relative to other societies; however, political space was always closed. The public were mere spectators of the political process, now they are the core part of it shaping their future through the ballot box. This is a welcome change from the time when few held hostage the political will and rights of many. I have no doubt in my mind that the change that started today here in these districts will change Puntland for good if maintained and built upon.
Earlier through this process, I was worried about poor public participation and indifference to this monumental opportunity, however, I was relieved today as I witnessed with my own eyes the high level of interest and the fervor which people were exhibiting toward this change. It gave me hope that this could be a turning point in the trajectory of Puntland and an example for the rest of Somalia.
Puntland President Said Deni who deserves recognition for his contribution to this milestone, stated today that similar to many people, it was the first time that he himself participated in a popular election as he cast his vote at Waddaniya polling station in Qardho.
TPEC has done commendable and extraordinary work from the beginning, and what we see today has taken a lot of time and effort to achieve considering the limited resources at their disposal, the political and social context they are working in, and the challenges they have faced along the way. I wish them success in these preliminary elections and in the rest of the planned elections to be held in all the districts of Puntland.
I am confident that this promising beginning will lead to the widening of political space and empowerment of citizens which is crucial for improving service delivery, ensuring good governance and accountability.
By: Yaxye Bisle Suuley
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Garowe Online's editorial stance.