Deni in the hot seat: Donors confront Puntland’s president

NAIROBI, Kenya (Caasimada Online) – Somalia’s international donors, including the US, UK, European Union, and the World Bank, gathered in Nairobi on Monday to express their concerns about recent actions by Puntland State President Said Abdullahi Deni. 

Puntland has been distancing itself from the federal government and boycotting the National Consultative Council (NCC) meetings aimed at working on the country’s permanent constitution.

A statement from the US Embassy in Somalia emphasized the importance of Puntland’s constructive engagement in Somalia’s state-building progress, including its participation in the NCC.

“International donors met with Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni and underlined the importance of Puntland engaging constructively in Somalia’s state-building progress, including thorough participation at the National Consultative Council (NCC),” the embassy said.

Puntland’s decision to boycott NCC meetings since December has been met with disapproval from Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who stated that the action is improper and that the federal government sees all citizens and federal member states as equal.

Deni’s boycott and Puntland’s history

Deni has boycotted the NCC meetings due to disagreements with the federalization of the judiciary and the separation of powers. He wants Puntland to act independently until Somalia establishes a new constitution.

Puntland, the oldest federal-state among the five, was established in 1998 and has had five presidents, with Deni being the latest.

Each president served a single term, even though they were eligible for re-election. Deni, who lost the presidency to Mohamud last year, has ambitions to break this pattern.

His aspirations have sparked division in Puntland, with critics accusing him of delaying reforms.

Puntland’s election Plan: Progress or delay?

Following his loss in Mogadishu, Deni returned to Puntland to unveil an “election plan” that he claims will enable locals to vote in the first universal suffrage.

However, his opponents argue that he wasted a year and a half seeking the federal presidency, which should have been used to lay the groundwork for Puntland’s governance.

Puntland’s constitution mandates universal suffrage as the voting model. However, it has often reverted to indirect elections due to insufficient resources, civic education, legal framework, and a capable electoral body.

Deni, whose term ends in January 2024, believes Puntland can implement one-person-one-vote, starting with local council elections in May, followed by the presidency. Critics argue that his true intention is to delay the vote.

Horseed Political Association, one of the oldest political movements in Puntland, has challenged Deni’s plan, calling for international intervention for a fair election process.

The association seeks a halt to the election plan until stakeholders can agree on modalities, including the structure of the local electoral body.

Deni’s opponents argue that his plan is designed to lock them out. Following the local elections in May, the three top-winning movements will register as political parties, eligible to nominate presidential candidates for the state in January.

Previous attempts and controversy

Mohamed Farole, Deni’s opponent and acting chairperson of the Horseed Association, pointed out that previous presidents did not have the legal framework that Deni currently has.

Past presidents, such as Abdirahman Farole, spent time establishing institutions but were accused of trying to extend their terms when they attempted similar projects. Deni’s opponents argue that he is leading Puntland into the same controversy.

Opposition groups claim that the electoral body has registered political associations that did not meet the criteria.

There are currently nine political associations in Puntland, four leaning toward the ruling Kaah association. Some associations boycotted the universal suffrage for local council elections in three districts of Eyl, Ufeyn, and Qardho in 2021, citing malpractices.

These included Horseed, Ifiye, Mustaqabal, and Run associations. Despite the boycott, international donors praised the pilot project.

Two potential scenarios could unfold depending on the mayoral elections’ outcome. Elected representatives may decide when the next parliament can sit, extending its life beyond the end of its five-year term in June.

This would allow the parliament to determine the date of the presidential elections, which could be later than January of the following year, granting Deni a more extended stay in office.

On the other hand, political associations that fail to secure enough seats in May will be unable to nominate candidates for the presidency.

Deni supporters highlight institution-building efforts

Deni’s allies argue that he is working towards establishing strong institutions in Puntland. Omar Hashi, a federal MP in Somalia, stated that President Deni focuses on implementing a local governance system in Puntland, starting with local council elections and later a state-level popular vote.

Regarding the NCC boycott, Hashi emphasized that Deni raised crucial concerns about federalism, specifically fiscal and power-sharing issues between the states and the federal government.

He urged listening to Deni and reaching a national consensus on these matters is essential.