Somalia’s electoral law debate: A compromise model for 2020/21 polls

Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame is a former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and Leader of the opposition Wadajir Party

The draft electoral law, revised by the parliamentary committee that was assigned that task, is being debated. Discussions are mostly going in one direction, save perhaps for few individuals affiliated with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The new law removes the option of a single constituency election. It instead proposes a multiple constituencies election, based on existing federal member states. The law also removes the option for a Proportional Representation, PR – Closed list election system, in which the electorate votes for parties in a simple majority contest. The parties would then decide on the list of candidates and how they are elected.

It proposes a system known as First Past the Post (FPTP), decided by a simple majority in a local seat contest and open list, where it does not matter even if the person is in the starting numbers of the list. It also removes a system in which the president must come from the party that garners 50+1 per cent votes in parliament, which goes against Article 89 of the Constitution.

 Direct election vs one-person one vote election

A one-person, one vote electoral system means the people directly vote for their preferred parliamentary candidates of their constituencies. The candidates themselves could either be fronted by parties or run independently. However, in cases where the parliamentary seats are pre-determined, with the 275 seats shared among the clans, not constituencies, voters can only choose between candidates of the same clan. This then cannot be a one person, one vote election. It could be a direct or indirect election.

The 2016 election was indirect, with traditional elders selecting electoral delegates who would then vote in a contest between independent candidates from the same clan.

The electoral law currently being debated proposes a direct electoral system. There are a few positive additions to the 2016 election system, one of them being the fact that parties nominate candidates for parliamentary seats. That means parliamentary seats are contested by parties not individuals. Another addition is that voters directly register to participate in the election, without the need for elders to select electoral delegates, and voter can only take part in a single parliamentary contest. It is not one person one vote, it is direct electoral system, and requires agreed credible voter registration process. A direct electoral system can be implemented before the end of mandate for the current government.

Differing arguments

There are conflicting arguments regarding the electoral law. President Farmajo and his allies are still campaigning for the election to take place across the country, with the electorate being a) Single National Constituency, (b) for the election to be based on Proportional Representation, PR – Closed list system, where the party is the entity elected, which then decides the list of its candidates and how they would be elected, ( c) For the president to come from the party that wins a simple majority of 50+1 percent of parliament, which means the votes of 140 MPs. Suspicion surrounding this model of election is that President might be counting on insecurity in the country, which won’t allow for elections to take place across the country, and to have most of the election in Mogadishu, where he has his so-called nationalist forces (Xoogagga Wadaniyiinta).

Term extension

Many MPs are arguing that the country cannot hold a one person, one vote election, and that this necessitates a term extension of two years for the current parliament, which would then elect a new president. The proponents of this argument need to explain how they could prepare for an election in two years, given that they could not do the same in four years. Also, will President allow a term extension for parliament only, while his term expires?

Meanwhile, the obstacle facing the argument that both the president and parliament need a two-year term extension, is that there is no justifiable explanation for it. If the parliamentary election has to be delayed due to security circumstances, the elections of the president and parliament speaker can be held in one day. So then why should the president and the speaker need a term extension?

And if term extension does not benefit the president, and speaker and his deputies why would they allow it?

Regardless, a term extension will not work. Regional states and political parties would not accept it, and the international community would find it hard to support a non-mandated government. It would also mean returning the country to a transition period.

Direct elections

A one person, one vote election is not possible because parliamentary seats are allocated to clans, not constituencies. Voters are restricted to vote clan candidates, but they can vote for the candidate of their choice within the clan. In a one person one vote elections, voters can vote in their constituency, and vote for any candidate they prefer.

If the one person one vote not possible to take place next year, the most sensible option is to hold a direct election, which means, improved, timely and constitutionally accepted model of election of 2016 electoral model. It is direct election. Unlike, in 2016 elections, voters will not be selected by elders but can directly register to vote.

In the end, it is best if the MPs campaigning for a term extension put aside that ambition. Likewise, the president should ditch his ambition of having the so-called nationalist forces vote for him in a rigged election.

The National Independent Electoral commission (NIEC) and the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) should halt entertaining the idea of a one person one vote election, which can not happen in a year time, and instead focus on holding a direct election on time.

Putting aside senseless ambitions and instead working towards the interest of the people, the stability of the country and the state-building process will create an environment for a credible electoral process based on consensus building and co-governance leadership.