Somalia holds its first democratic election in nearly 50 years

Next Sunday, after nearly fifty years, Somalia goes back to the polls for the democratic election of a new parliament and a new president. The historic event marks a turning point in the long and difficult transition of the African country, which since 2012 has been administered by a provisional government.

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The elections had already suffered two postponements to the inadequate training of officials in voting control and because of a dispute among clans, which is a sign of the wide and difficult to remedy social rifts that divide the country.

The difficult process of reconciliation between the different clans has had a direct impact on the elections, settlement of which has come by reaching an agreement by the clan over the division of seats in the Upper House and the House of the People, which is the Lower House of Parliament.

The Somali election process is based on an indirect mechanism which is rather complex and divided into several stages, and which will require more than a month to be completed. All this means that access to polling stations will be allowed to less than 0.14% of the population of a little more than eleven million inhabitants.

The election of Members of Parliament is based on the preferences of 14,024 delegates, already selected by 135 clan elders, the same that in 2012 elected the 275 members of Parliament, and 50 voters coming from each of the five federal unity of Somalia.

The 14,024 delegates will operate their selection based on the so-called “4.5 (four point five)” clan system, conceived by the international community as a compromise to represent the different clans and ensure fair distribution of seats among the various groups.

The 4.5 mechanism provides for the election of one representative for each of the four main clans (Dir, Darod, Digil iyo Mirifle, and Hawiye), plus half of the representatives from minority clans, considered jointly. Meanwhile, 54 members of the Upper House were already appointed on last October 5 by the federal states, as required by Somali electoral law.

Between October 23 and November 10, individual colleges will appoint the Members of the Lower Chamber. Once elected they will have to take an oath before November 20, to nominate the President of the Parliament and his deputies by November 25.

Five days later, it is expected that 275 MEPs in the Lower House and 54 of the Upper House will meet again to elect the next head of state of Somalia.

Among the presidential candidates are the current President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the Prime Minister in office Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, former Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur, the former Prime Minister Abdullahi Farmajo and even Fatumo Dayib, a Somali refugee who has lived in Finland since 1990, when he fled from his country due to the civil war.

It must however be emphasized that the Somali electoral mechanism has raised concerns for many observers, who fear that the interests of the less influential clans will fall into second place, and who also consider that the voting pattern was designed to promote a specific political elite.

According to political analyst Abdihakim Ainte, it is very difficult to leave room for optimism, in an electoral process so distant from the traditional formula of one citizen - one vote. Ainte believes that the mechanism by which the Somalis will choose their representatives in government has many defects and is prone to fraud and manipulation.

In recent weeks, even the United Nations, the African Union, the United States and the European Union have expressed serious concerns about the smooth running of the electoral process in Somalia, condemning the delays in voting and denouncing the widespread presence of candidates with back-stories of crime, violence and terrorism.

However, whatever the outcome of the polls, there is no doubt that this process will mark another turning point in the long and difficult political transition of the country. If the elections prove a failure, the first timid signs of faith in the Somali institutions could again be dispersed in the subsequent chaos.

If the elections will take place without any problems, we will still have to wonder about Somalia’s future, questioning if in the next few years the country will be able to keep its nascent institutions and follow the winding road that leads towards democratization and development.

And we should nof forget  that, grossly under representative as it may be, a government capable of ensuring long-term stability is the only guarantee to the international actors still essential and present in the territory.

Somalia will achieve full sovereignty only through the withdrawal of the troops from the African Union’s AMISOM mission and the downsizing of the vital aid from the United Nations which still represents the main source of foreign direct investment.


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