Can Somalia Hold Credible Elections in Time?

Thursday August 04, 2016 - 04:13:27
Ahead of the eve of the Somali Leaders Forum (SLF) meeting in Mogadishu, there are positive signs as Somalia prepares elections in the next few months.

There is a consensus among all Federal Institutions (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) and Somali Regional leaders that there will be no extension once the term of the current government ends in September 2016.

They also agree that the indirect election should be one that has more legitimacy, representative and inclusive compared to the 2012 elections where only 135 elders chose the 275 MPs.

This time 51 constituency members will elect each MP, which means 14025 citizens will take part the indirect elections. If this goes according to the plan, there is hope that the country will hold its first fair and free one-person one vote elections by 2020.

This paper examines the 2016 electoral system, discusses the prevailing challenges and to provide options on the way forward.

In September 2012, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected as the first President of a Permanent Federal Government following the end of Transitional Governments since 2000.
The mandate of the Government was similar to all previous governments, which was to review the constitution and hold a referendum, implement Federal system and to hold a fair and free one person one vote elections.

Just like the previous governments, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had it unique challenges, mostly related to security and lack of resources to fulfill its mandate.

But each successive government have taken steps that led to the overall improvements of many sectors in the country despite the security challenges as Al-Shabaab changed their tactics to an asymmetric warfare that caused too many civilian casualties. One of the reason was that the improvement of security institutions reduced attacks to government buildings and that is why we have seen a rise on attacks in public places like hotels, restaurants and populated areas on main streets, such as Liido Seafood Restaurant.

Thanks to the leaders of the current government, compared to 2012, the 2016 electoral system has witnessed improvements because it is Somali-owned and Somali-led process. We have seen Somali Leaders Forum meeting regularly without international partners present, all of meetings took place inside Somalia compared to 2012 elections, where political infighting used to solve neighboring capitals.
What is more evident is that there is a consensus of holding elections and making sure that there is no option for an extension. There is also a consensus to hold a transparent and more legitimate elections compared to 2012.

The plan is for Traditional Elders to choose 51 constituency members that will elect each MP. Election Commission has been appointed and Federal Government leaders and Federal Member States have chosen their members.
In addition, 22 members of the Election Commission has democratically elected their Chairperson and Deputies that will lead the process to ensure that elections are transparent and will take place in time. They will come up with their plan of action with timelines.

Somali Leaders Forum (SLF) is set to meet tomorrow the 3rd of August 2016 to finalize the time-table of the election taking into account proposals from the Election Commission. This meeting is very important and the people and our international partners are watching keenly. SLF meeting will address the completion of all tasks relating to the upcoming indirect elections, including the establishment of the dispute commission, the status of Mogadishu, the regional election commission composition, ensuring women get their 30% allocated quota and other issues such as Somali National Security Policy and its implementation.

The question is whether SLF will meet the higher expectations and aspirations of the people—which is to hold a fair and free elections in time. It will determine whether the country will move a step forward and hold one-person one vote in 2020.

The main challenges are security and resources. Any plan without adequate resources and safe and secure environment is bound to fail.


It is expected that the new Election Commission will submit a budget proposal to the SLF during the meeting of 2nd of August. There are already discrepancies of the required resources. SLF during their last meeting in Baidoa submitted a budget for the elections, but the international partners who are expected to underwrite the elections raised concern that the requested budget is too high.

It is not also clear whether the International partners will be able to cover all these expenses for the elections, as they are now talking on ways to generate resources by requesting candidates of MPs to pay around 5,000 US dollar to cover elections expenses.

For example if there are 5 candidates for every constituency, we are looking at a situation of 1375 candidates, which brings a total of $6,875,000 (six million eight hundred seventy five thousands). Even though this is a good way of raising resources, it is impossible to implement it for various reasons. One, it will limit the elections to only those who can afford it, at the same time encourages corruption. Many candidates with good programs but less resources will be locked out.

The best option in such a scenario is for every selected MP to contribute to his or her first three months’ salary of 3,000 USD towards the electoral process. In other words, international partners giving loans to the process so that the new parliament will repay them as loans.

The task of transporting over 14,000 people from all regions of Somalia and accommodating them in various districts in the country will be costly. The security of these electors will also have resource implications

Candidates for MPs and the presidency will need a safe and secure environment to exercise democratic practices including freedom of movement, holding events, lobbying within constituency and safety for their own during this critical time.


There is an understanding that AMISOM and Somali Security forces will ensure the security of cities during election. It is easier for security forces to provide security in general, but it will be difficult to ensure the safety of everyone including constituency members that are electing MPs (14025) and candidates of MP seats (1375) as well as presidential candidates. Al-Shabaab has already threatened to people taking part the electoral process and warned them not to take part. Furthermore, there are strong signs that they are considering changing this threat and forcing Traditional leaders to choose constituency members from Al-Shabaab so that they can become MPs. This is a serious issues that need to be addressed immediately.
Security will not only be the responsibility of the government institutions, but every citizen as the legitimacy of the election process is for the interest of all. Since security institutions of regions will be responsible for the overall safety of other cities, they lack proper training and capacity.

Other challenges

Other challenges include the fair and free selection of the 51 constituency members. It is impossible to gather a huge number of constituency members in one place. For example, MPs from Somali-land and areas where Al-Shabaab are in control will not be able to take part the election process. So they will have to come to Mogadishu, which is hard to bring those genuine constituency members.

Another challenge is that there will be attempts to influences and manipulation from Federal Member States as elections will take place in their capitals and their leaders will have the final signature. Furthermore, there is a plan to also have regional election commissions but it is still not clear how they will work with the National Election Commission.

The way forward

In order to ensure that the upcoming election is fair, free and more legitimate, there should be more representation and a feeling of inclusivity.
While there is a consensus on having an enhanced and more legitimate elections compared to 2012, it still remains an ambitious plan. Some people argue that since the ultimate goal is to hold fair and free elections on one person one vote by 2020, why not continue with the same process of 2012 which is specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic and can be implemented within the short time before the mandate of the current government ends in September.

Therefore, if there is no guarantee on security and resources needed as time is running out, SLF and International partners need to urgently review of what is at stake.

Even if the required resources is available, there is a high probability that the remaining time is not sufficient to implement the 2016 electoral system. The following recommendations worth considering during the SLF meeting on 2nd of August.

1. If and only if there is guarantee of security and resources with proper plan of ensuring inclusiveness, representation and genuine process, it will need at least six months to implement it. Beginning August, the more realistic time to hold elections is end of January or early February 2017.
2. If there is insecurity and no resources guarantee, then the best option is to implement the 2012 model, where 135 Traditional Elders will select the 275 MPs. This way, there is guarantee to hold the indirect elections, and it gives more chances for women MPs than the grand and ambitious 2016 electoral process. It will mean no Somali leader will have influence or manipulate the process, as the Traditional Leaders will have the final say on who will represent their respective clan.
3. The best option would be to consider one-year extension of the current institutions with a strict road-map and timetable to ensure that the grand and ambitious plan is implemented in time. This will give the government and the international partners time to raise the required resources and ensure an environment that is conducive to hold elections.

I might not have tackled all the challenges but my objective is to generate debate on the challenges facing the electoral system in order to find a suitable option for the country. Since time is too short, we must come up with a plan that is acceptable to all, and gain the confidence of citizens.

By Mr. Abdirahman Omar Osman (Eng. Yarisow) former Minister of Treasury, former Minister of Information, and former Senior Advisor and Spokesperson to the President and the Prime Minister of Somalia, You can reach him

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