By Abdirahman Mohamed Sh. Abdilahi (Guray)
Somaliland declared itself as an independent state in 1991, after the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Somalia in 1991. Somaliland, de-facto state fulfilled the conditions required by state as enshrined in Montevideo Convention, succeeded in building peace and state at the bottom, transformed from traditional way of governance to multi party system and democracy in the Horn of Africa.
The international community pushes minimal democracy to African countries to transform the African countries into democratic states where by the people elects their leaders. Unlike African countries, Somaliland started the process of democracy per se including free and fair elections to enhance governance system, strengthen peace, shift from traditional clan based method to multiparty system, acquire international recognition and create a government that represents the citizens. Somaliland is the only country in Africa that the speaker of the parliament is controlled by the opposition parties.
So far five elections were held peacefully and considered free and fair elections as the domestic and international observers accounted. Despite this, upholding Somaliland elections are vital in democratization, development, state building and peace building, achieving accountable and transparent government and the path to recognition. However there have been equivalent challenges that were not addressed and overshadowed all of the elections.
This paper contends that the elections evolved for the last eleven years cannot be sustained because of high donor dependency, frequent election postponement and lack of voter Registration.
Overview of Somaliland Elections
Initially, Somaliland’s political structure was based on clan system. 1993 Borame Conference and 1997 of National Reconciliation conference at Hargeisa, the representatives were selected from the clans inclusively, each clan was given a proportion in the parliament, cabinet ministers and government positions. Delegates representing all clans inhabiting Somaliland were called to attend the conferences in order to elect the president and vice president in an open, transparent and competitive manner. However, there has been shift from clan based politics to multi-party system that incorporates both traditional (clan based) and party political institutions, when the people of Somaliland unanimously ratified their first constitution in a referendum on 31 May 2001. Majority of Somaliland people endorsed the Constitution with number of 97%. “In May 1999, President Egal announced a plan to move from the clan based system adopted in the 1993 Borame Conference to a multiparty system in which aspiring parties were prohibited from adopting platforms based on tribal or religious affiliations and requiring that they draw significant support from all regions” (Steve Kibble, Michael Wall, 2009, P3).
The adoption of the constitution ends the politics based on clans and opened avenue for multiparty system and also put in place all the necessary mechanisms catalyzing the transition including but not limited to: every citizen has the right to be elected and elect a candidate, providing a universal suffrage and also allowing the women to vote. It restricts the number of political parties into three and stipulates that political parties should represent all Somaliland clans, rejects parties representing particular clan, religion and group.
Somaliland experienced, managed and succeeded five elections: Local council elections two times, presidential elections two times and House of Representative.
15 December 2002 marks the first elections in Somaliland history after regaining independence, the citizen casted their votes in the ballot boxes to elect their local councilors, this was a double task: short listing and screening political associations to three political parties and election of local councilors. Six political parties registered and contested in the first local council elections of Somaliland: UDUB, KULMIYE, UCID, SAHAN, HORMOD and ASAD. Approximately, 453905 voters casted their votes. “As specified in the constitution and Political Parties Regulations only three parties would emerge and recognized as an official political parties based on their national vote” (Manfred Gers, Valentine, 2002, P.6). The party gains 20% of the votes of all over the six regions will be recognized as political parties. This indicates that the regional representation is essential. UDUB, KULMIYE and UCID emerged from the competition and registered as the three official political parties. However the three parties failed to attain at least 20% of valid votes in the regions (Manfred Gers, Valentine, 2002, P.7).
International and Domestic observers reported the elections. Cosongo/Negaad Domestic observers who covered around 400 polling stations (56% of the actual number of polling stations) reported that the election took place peacefully throughout the country (Manfred Gers, Valentine, 2002, P.16).
International observers sponsored by Progressio also reported the process was orderly and transparent. Irregularities were cited in a number of areas, including incidents of multiple voting, but were not considered serious enough to have substantially altered the results. (SONSAF, 2011, P11).
On 14 April 2003, the first presidential election were held, contested by the three political parties; UDUB, ruling party, KULMIYE and UCID opposition parties. Dahir Rayale Kahin from UDUB, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo from Kulmiye and Faisal Ali Warabiye from UCID party were the candidates. The ruling party, UDUB won a small margin of 80 votes over Kulmiye opposition party. Although there was a dispute in the counting of votes, announcing the results and the public were very keen to hear the position of the Kulmiye after the declaration of the election results, Kulmiye party accepted the outcome.
“International Election Observers reported no major irregularities. In the absence of voter registration lists, indelible ink was used to mark voters and prevent multiple balloting. But the ink was easily bleached out and this was exploited by all parties”. (SONSAF, 2011, P13)
On 29 September 2005, Somalilanders casted their votes to elect their first parliament. This was the first parliamentary elections held in Somali regions since 1969 (Progressio, 2005, P19). Around 246 candidates from UDUB, KULMIYE and UCID contested the 82 seats of the house of representative. It was an open list. The ruling party UDUB won 33 MPs, Kulmiye 28 MPs and UCID 21 MPs. The opposition parties made collisions to become the majority of the house of representatives and nominated the speakers of the parliament. “This makes Somaliland the only place in Africa where parliament is not controlled by the government” (Progressio, 2005, P1)
The international observers sponsored by Progressio who covered more than a third of 982 polling stations reported “the poll was conducted peacefully and in a reasonably free and fair manner, with committed and enthusiastic participation by Somaliland’s citizens.” (Somaliland.net)
Following on five terms extension of president Rayale’s tenure which came to an end on 15 May 2008, 2nd presidential election were held on 26 June 2010. Unlike previous elections, voter registration was used for the first time to avoid multiple voting. The three political parties contesting the previous elections UDUB, KULMIYE and UCID were also present. The candidate from the opposition party Kulmiye, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo defeated the ruling party UDUB, president Dahir Rayale Kahin. According to preliminary results issued by NEC on 1 July that Kulmiye party got 49.59% of the valid votes, UDUB got 33.23% and UCID obtained 17.28% of the valid votes, the Supreme Court approved the results after lack of complaints on the results from the political parties (SONSAF.org)
SONSAF who deployed wide non partisan election observers reports that the “presidential election on 26 June 2010 was fair, free and credible ensuring the respect of the will of the people of Somaliland” (SONSAF, 2010, P7). Likewise the international observers stated in a press release two days after the election that the presidential election on 26 June 2010 was free and fair and met international standards and practices (Progressio, 2010, P51)
Before the last elections in Somaliland, citizens were allowed to organize and open political associations to compete with the existing political parties, the three parties obtaining the highest votes will be registered and recognized as an official party with a mandate of ten years. On 28 November 2012, Somaliland held local council elections, with 2368 candidates from seven political associations (Kulmiye, Wadani, UCID, Dalsan, Umad, Rays and Xaqsoor) contesting 379 positions across the country. Kulmiye, Wadani and UCID were the political associations qualified for political parties gaining 30%, 20% and 13% respectively. (Saferworld, 2012, P30)
The international observers states that “there is sufficient evidence to state that successful attempts at multiple voting occurred at very significant level. Thus, although the report declares the election process reasonably free and credible, it must fall short of describing it as fair” (Progressio, 2013, P6).
Over all, Somaliland elections were successful as International and Domestic Observers reported that they met international standards and practices. The defeated parties/candidate accepted the results, there was a peaceful transfer of power when president Rayale handed over the rule to opposition leader Mr. Silanyo. The international community was not only providing technical and financial assistance but also observing the outcome of the elections as well. Nonetheless there have been constant challenges faced all the elections that resulted to think and question the future of Somaliland democracy particularly elections. Issues pertaining to dependency, recurrent election postponement and lack of voter registration
It is the role of the Somaliland government to fully finance elections as per schedule. Ironically the international communities have been providing technical and financial assistance to the National Electoral Commission, except the first election on local council in 2002, which Somaliland government paid from its annual budget and National Electoral Commission implemented “The local council elections of 15 December 2002 were very much a Somaliland affair, run by Somalilanders for Somalilanders”.(Manfred.Gers, Valentine, 2002, P4)
Somaliland Elections are highly dependent on funds from donors. Thanks for international organizations for their generous support in terms of funds and expertise. The international community particularly European Union funds 75% of the total budget of elections, while Somaliland government pays the rest 25% (Somaliland.org). Analyzing the magnitude of donor dependency, we somalilanders 75% dependent on external aid, this is a serious issue pertaining to maintaining Somaliland elections because one day the donor may withdraw financing subject to availability of funds or their own interest coupled with lack of strategy to cushion if this happens “Somaliland remains dependent on international for financing its elections, which is unsustainable in the longrun”.
Voter Registration plague
Multiple voting remains challenge to the elections. According to the past elections the International and domestic observers reported that the voters were casting their votes more than one time which lowered the credibility and status of the election in accordance with the international standard requirement, except the presidential election on 26 June 2010, the first election in Somaliland that employed the production of voter list and voter cards to all voters.
The voter registration started in Somaliland which the donors heavily supported and financed around 8 million Dollars on 13 may 2008 for seven days with ten days of extension to minimize the risk of double voting. Registration teams were trained and deployed to the regions of Somaliland to register eligible voters with help of biometric software database capturing finger prints, photographs and person details. The voters were given ID cards and copies of the list were left in the polling stations. However it was visible the people were registering more than one time, taking more cards to vote during the election day. Consultants, first from Creative Associates International Inc (creative) and later ERIS reviewed that data, the server and the process to clean the register but this failed which left the system large number of duplicate registers.
After heated debate among political parties over the issue of the registration, it was agreed that this registration will be used only for the presidential election on 26 June 2010 and will be held new registration on the upcoming elections. During the last election the voter registration was suspended and conducted the election without registration giving a chance the voters to cast their votes many times. As a result of that the international observers reported as a free but not fair.
To have a voter registration is a condition for every election, currently there are initiatives to start voter registration process in the year 2014. However to have a proper voter registration is a still challenge due to the experience of the failed previous voter registrations, the clans together with the political parties struggling to acquire a high number of registrants.
It is strongly believed that the system failed due to number of issue including but not limited to competition of clans regarding the quantity which resulted each clan to mobilize as much as possible with the expectation that the future distribution of power, resources and development program will be based on the registration. The political parties also involved in encouraging people to take more than the eligible card particularly the districts supporting or may give their vote.
The system in place is also to blame because they were not taking full parameters and were given the chance to skip the finger print if required.
Frequent Election Postponements
For the five elections held in Somaliland there have been frequent postponements on the election schedule and single election was not held on the time set. The last presidential election held on 26 June 2010 has been rescheduled and delayed five times. The opposition parties refused the series term extension of the president and mobilized wide demonstrations. Somaliland is known for solving its conflict internally. Notwithstanding it was the first time in Somaliland history that an external body mediates the political parties and ends the conflict by presenting six points agreement. The House of Representatives were elected on 25 September 2005, their term expired on 2010 and they are still in the office enjoying four years extra on their mandatory time. It is not still clear to the public when this overdue election will be held.
Frequent postponement on elections is a major challenge facing the sustainability of Somaliland elections because it creates crisis and debates to the public and election stakeholders.
The main factors causing this were partly due to technical preparation in terms of amending electoral laws, voter registration conflict and incumbent officers demanding to stay in the office longer period.
Somaliland held five elections peacefully, fair and free which the Domestic and International observers endorsed. However sustaining the elections is under huge impediment first largely arising from the dependency on international community in terms of financing 75% of the whole budget including the preparation, implementation and post election reporting in addition to that National Electoral Commission (NEC), Independent organization responsible for elections is highly dependent on international community pertaining to technical assistance such as training to the staff, supporting the administration and procurement of ballot papers/boxes from abroad countries etc.
Second, the voter registration debacle is another huge problem in the persistence of elections coupled with lack of civil registration to differentiate between the citizens and strangers. Elections will not be considered as a fair unless proper voter registration is ensured. It is difficult to get accurate registration because of the competition between clans which every clan wants to have the highest number of registrars combined with the encouragement of political parties in districts favoring them.
Third, cyclical adjournment of elections is also titanic threat to the continuation of peaceful elections because elected officials enjoyed in the office more than their legitimate time that resulted a series tension between the political parties, National Electoral Commission and the government. The House of Representatives are staying in the office four years additional, the first local councilors have been in the office for five years extra before the last elections on councilors in 2012 and the president Dahir Rayale Kahin enjoyed three years supplementary. President Silanyo declared that he will not extend single day on his tenure in an annual speech he delivered in front of the parliament. Nonetheless the upcoming year will determine.
Finally it is the interest of Somaliland government and people to sustain the democracy it started earlier particularly the peaceful elections which the international community appreciated and will lead to recognition. Thus maintaining Somaliland elections requires thinking of alternative strategy for financing elections where Somaliland government takes full responsibility in incorporating the annual budget of the country, conducting proper voter registration which ensures the one man one vote principle and guaranteeing that the elections are held as planned to avoid term extensions and delays.
Tradition and Modernity in Somaliland beyond Polarity: Negotiating a hybrid state. Steve Kibble and Michael Wall, December 2009.
Final Report of the European Union/GT; Technical Advisor Team: Manfred.Gers, Nicholas M. Valentine December 2002. (P.4, 6, 7, 16)
SONSAF (Mar 2011) Somaliland Election Review Report, (P11, 13)
Progressio (2005): Further steps to Democracy (P 1, 19).
http://somalilandtimes.net/196/10706.shtml. Accessed on 16 March 2014. Somaliland: CIIR’S Election Observers Release Interim Report.
http://www.sonsaf.org/Files/SONSAF_DEO_PressRelease2_vs2_290610(1).pdf. SONSAF Post Election Press Release Hargiesa, 29 June 2010. Accessed on 16 March 2014.
SONSAF (2010), Domestic Election Observation – 26 June presidential election July 2010,( P7)
Progressio (2010), Somaliland: Change and Continuity. Report by International Election Observers on the June 2010 presidential elections in Somaliland: Michael Walls and Steve Kibble (P51).
Progressio (2013), Swerves on the road: Report by International Election Observers on the 2012 Local Council Elections. June 2013, Steve Kibble and Michael Walls. (P6)
Saferworld (2013), Somalilanders Speak – Lessons from the November 2012 local elections. April 2013 – Jacinta Makokha and Yusuf Ali
http://184.108.40.206/somalilandfocus.org.uk/?page_id=117. Accessed on 16 March 2014.
http://www.somaliland.org/2012/07/08/komishanka-doorashooyinka-oo-cadeeyay-in-xukuumaddu-ay-shubtay-kharashkii-doorashooyinka/ (Somaliland.org, 2012, P3) Retrieved on 16 March 2014
Abdirahman Mohamed Sh. Abdilahi (Guray)
BBA, PGD – Peace and Conflict Studies, MA candidate in International Relations and Diplomacy at University of Hargeisa