Somalia held presidential elections yesterday. The elections are more than a year behind schedule, and has been marred by deadly violence and a power struggle between President Mohamed Farmajo Abdullahi Mohamed, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
Somalia’s international partners have been pushing for the process to pick up speed, fearing the delays sap efforts to tackle entrenched problems, including the fight against Al-Shabaab jihadists and the threat of famine. A three-year $400-million (380-million-euro) aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will automatically expire by tomorrow if a new administration is not in place, a move that would plunge the country into deeper peril.
After Farmajo’s term ended in February last year without a new vote taking place, he attempted to extend his rule by decree, triggering violent street battles in Mogadishu as rival factions clashed. Following international pressure, he appointed Roble to seek consensus on a way forward. But the process has progressed painfully, stoking fears of further instability. In addition to the feud between Farmajo and Roble, the central government has also been embroiled in disputes with certain states, slowing down the voting process.
Somalia’s electoral system makes it a unique case that must be delicately managed to prevent further crises.
The country does not have a direct voting system in which one man has one vote, rather, the indirect system of representative democracy sees clan elders’ appointed delegates band together with regional government appointed delegates (who sometimes are from the civil society space) to elect the 275 members of the Lower House, who in turn vote for the President who must have at least 184 votes. This system is open to abuse as it is prone to vote buying and the kind of horse trading that advance parochial interests over national interest, as it also makes the dominant clans the unofficial king makers which does well enough to sanction regional interest.
This has contributed to the intrigues leading up to the delayed presidential elections, which is just another in a very long, chequered history of the troubles that Somalia has dealt with for the past 30 years and which has made it a failed state. President Farmajo’s decision to run for reelection may settle the dispute over his illegal tenure extension (which is not a rarity in the region, and which plunged neighbouring Ethiopia into war in 2020) but it may not do enough to bridge political division. This election featured a record 39 presidential candidates, including two former presidents and includes its first female presidential candidate, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam.
Meanwhile, terror group Al Shabaab’s inability to undermine the system despite the kidnap of elders in 2012 and 2016 has seen a change in the group’s strategy. It is now courting delegates, and neighbouring Djibouti’s President Omar Guelleh has said that Somalia may have a parliament whose members will advance Al Shabaab’s interests. There’s also no guarantee that a new government will be sworn in by tomorrow which is the deadline for the renewal of the IMF funding arrangement. The chances of a better outcome are heavily predicated on how Somalia’s international partners (especially Qatar who are said to heavily fund Famajo’s previous elections) manage any fallout that arises from the election.