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(S)Elections Delayed — Somalia's Roadmap to Free and Fair Elections

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable — John Kenneth Galbraith.

Prime Minister Roble (in the middle) seeking to bring about a deal between the heads of two rival factions.

Many critics were sceptical when Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Roble was ceremoniously entrusted with elections in May 2021. Scepticism that was largely a consequence of the fact that no official decree had been issued transferring power formally. What's more is that besides the absence of a decree, his soft-spoken nature and timid appearance has always been cited as evidence of incompetence by naysayers. As a result, rumours proliferated.

Some alleged that Roble was merely the incumbent's proxy, a mere puppet in place in order to rig the election in favor of the incumbent. Today we know that it was hearsay no longer tenable, after dramatic events unfolded yesterday. In response to complaints from candidates, including former Governor of Gedo Osman Moallim, Prime Minister Roble abruptly dismissed two top intelligence officers. The two men, Abdullahi Kullane Jiis and Abdiwahab Sheikh Ali, were notorious figures of the NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency).

Throughout recent weeks, opposition leaders and media outlets have accused them of a myriad of unconstitutional practices. Their notoriety was so astonishing that it became a hot topic of discussion across Somali social media. Because Kullane is a close ally of the incumbent President, Mohamed Farmaajo, whose term expired earlier this year in February, the news particularly surprised political analysts and commentators.

President Mohamed Farmaajo (left) with his ally Kullane (right).

Insiders have pointed out that Kullane belongs to the same sub-clan as the incumbent, which seems to be the only noticeable factor explaining his meteoric rise. This connection has facilitated a rising across departments and ranks from Deputy Chief of Staff of Villa Somalia to a high-profile job at the NISA, in charge of sensitive processes around national security. To the detriment of terrorism embattled Somalia, Kullane brought zero formal security experience to the table, and generally proved unfit in every sense of the word.

It thus surprises not in the least that he was involved in so many scandals, from the conscripting of unconstitutional paramilitary units to the disappearance of NISA Cybersecurity Head Ikran Tahlil Farah. The closer one scrutinises this figure, the more apparent it becomes that a foul cloud of illegality follows Kullane from his beginning to his end. Good riddance!

Worryingly, though, speculations suggest that his monopolistic tactics of intimidation and exclusion were not simply meant to ensure that Farmaajo's reelection was assured. Kullane is rumored to be running for a parliamentary seat himself. It is therefore possible that we will hear from him again in the near future.

An official letter by Kullane barring politicians from freely travelling Nov 2019.

Even so, whether he has been expelled permanently or not, his case is a prime example of the dilemma that the incumbent is currently facing. As he mentioned himself in a Foreign Affairs article published some weeks ago, he is simply there to prevent a constitutional vacuum.

Due to the expiration of his term in February, any binding appointments he makes now with an impact beyond his term are likely to face stiff opposition. Puntland's recent refusal, for example, to incorporate a commission Farmaajo established after his mandate expired, shows how much of a constitutional dilemma caretaking presidencies present. Issues that emanate from the lack of completion of the constitution.

Whatever the case, the current Sheriff in town takes his election management duties and independence from executive interference very serious. For PM Roble's latest act of firmness comes barely two days after he called on security officials not to restrict free movement. A vow which he made in public to signal that political participation will be opened to everyone in a fair and transparent process. And he delivered.

Thus there can be no doubt that Roble is committed to universal suffrage.

PM Roble hastened to a decision yesterday in honour of prior promises, showcasing his awareness that a contested election would be a national catastrophe.

But is that truly the last hurdle Roble had to face in his quest to deliver peaceful and credible elections? Is Somalia on track to reach its goal of conducting a Presidential Election on the 1st of October 2021?

My answer to this question is no. But behold dear reader, I neither claim to have oracular powers, nor do I belong to the fortune-tellers of doom and gloom. Though I have full confidence in the Prime Minister to do his utmost best to deliver a free and fair election, I sense the struggle is just really beginning.

There clearly are several hurdles in the way. Firstly, the roadmap and dates published by the FEIT just recently on the 16th of July, welcomed and approved by the PM, seem grossly unrealistic. The below data visualisation shows how:

Graphic: Mohamed A. Warsame — Source: FEIT/PM_Office

The senate election is supposed to kick-off tomorrow on the 25th of July 2021, even though several federal member states have not yet sorted out the prior “Poll Stations & Electoral Commissions” step as shown in green in the Gantt chart.

Galmudug State, for instance, will not conduct a parliamentary session before the 1st of August, when its House of Parliament is meant to reconvene after an Eid break. An official from the Galmudug administration has confirmed to me that a security offensive against terrorist outfit Alshabaab, meant to ensure the security of elections, caused the delay. The parliament members have therefore been given a month of holiday break.

The Galmudug official who confirmed this, Osman Moallim Hassan, Chief of Staff there, confided an even more shocking revelation than that. He informed without requesting confidentiality that the FGS funding for the election has still not be released as of yet. No funds of course means no election can take place anytime soon.

Another hurdle is presented by the dispute surrounding Somaliland senate seats which Roble seems to have addressed in the last couple of days. The lack of formality and written arrangements signed by the two conflicted parties indicates that it might take some days or possibly even weeks to resolve things with finality.

Consequently, delays are bound to occur for Galmudug and Somaliland electoral caucuses, while Jubaland, South-West State and Puntland might manage to avoid similarly lengthy setbacks. So far, only Jubaland and South-West State have proclaimed a timely beginning to the Senate Election milestone.

Furthermore, The Federal Election Implementation Team (FEIT) have recently updated the original timetable that was published in June, as outlined below:

The Original Schedule

Training and election of the chairman of electoral commissions — June 30 - July 5

Election of the Upper House — July 25

Preparation of election polling stations — July 23

Selection and preparation of electoral delegates — July 15 - August 10

Election of members of Parliament — August 10 - September 10

Swearing-in of the members of Parliament and election of the Speaker of both Houses of the Somali Parliament — September 20

Presidential Election — October 10

To everyone's surprise, however, they have even removed the last and most important step, i.e., the Presidential Election date in the updated version of the roadmap, possibly as a way out for the Prime Minister to manage any unforeseen delay. I have summarised the average expected delays to every step, as subdivided into Preparation, Election and Swearing-in steps below:

Uniquely Constructed Summarisation of Revised Timetable by FEIT.

All things considered, I predict a minimum delay of one month to every step in the process. That is, if no other stone is thrown at the PM's path to a credible election.

The Revised Schedule Key Dates:

(The key dates to look out for beyond today)

Announcing of Results of Senate Election — 1 August

Selection and preparation of electoral delegates (HoP) — July - August 11

Duration for Complaint Forwarding & Final Delegates List — 2 August - August 15

Preparation of Election Committees & List of Delegates Forwarding — 20 August - 25 August

Complaint Forwarding Final Review — 21 August - 28 August

Final Resolution of Complaints — 22 August - 4th September

Final Delegates List Certification — 5 September - 10 September

Preparation of Polling Stations for HoP Election — 1 September - 10 September

Training for Electoral Caucus Delegates — 11 September - 1 October

Election of members of Parliament — 12 September - 2 October

Swearing-in of Lower House Chamber — 2 October - 7th October

As can be seen from the longer revised list, things look extremely more complicated. There are new intermediary steps built in, such as conflict resolution and dispute management, as well as training for the caucus delegates. The doubtful eye might even suspect intentional delay tactics in the many dispute resolution steps, which might be taken as a pretence to delay presidential elections beyond 2021.

For that reason, it is quite plausible that my prediction of a one month minimum delay to every original milestone turns out to be a conservative estimate. The heated political climate of the present is truly unpredictable. But this is nothing new to the Somali electoral process.

Committee nominations, delegate nominations, and candidate registrations, as well as key election dates of the parliamentary and presidential elections have been repeatedly pushed back in the previous election season of 2016, too. While the lack of coordination across all states and the delayed and uneven election roadmap may be unavoidable in the fragile Somali context, Roble has a chance to look ahead and learn from the past failures to ensure a less bumpy ride.

By Mohamed A. Warsame

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