Puntland at a crossroads: Urgent calls for negotiation

In the past three days, numerous events have unfolded, which, if they persist, could lead to unfavorable outcomes. On May 15, 2023, the Puntland Political Forum, consisting of politicians from within and outside the country, issued a statement urging the President of Puntland, Said Abdulahi Deni, to engage in negotiations to discuss the election process.

The group warned the President and his team that they would be held responsible for any consequences arising from an election process that did not have the consensus of all stakeholders. Within an hour, it was reported that two militias of the Puntland forces clashed near the airport, when one group attempted to prevent the other from transporting election equipment. The Attorney General issued arrest warrants for four politicians suspected of instigating the conflict. 

One of these politicians, Hassan Shire Abdi, was interviewed at a restaurant in Garowe. He claimed that the President of Puntland instigated the previous day’s fighting. Hassan Shire Abdi argued that the Attorney General lacked the authority to make arrests, citing the rejection on two occasions of the Attorney General’s appointment in parliament. Furthermore, Abdi alleged that the Attorney General shared the same clan affiliation as the President, suggesting that President Deni is consolidating power among his clan members and blindly loyal supporters. 

With each group currently blaming the other, Puntlanders will not get the desired outcome they expect. The average person simply wants a clear and understandable election process based on the principle of one person, one vote. They want to know who they are voting for and what those individuals stand for. 

The crucial issue to address is the election process itself. Discussing matters other than a one person, one vote election will not lead to any solutions. Similarly, any government official advocating for a resolution through force also contributes to the problem, the same way that any politician who prioritizes personal interests over the interests of the Puntland state is also a part of the issue. 

The election process lacks a predetermined timeline understood and agreed upon by all parties. When the election process was restarted in the middle of last year, there was insufficient time for it to be completed, understood, and discussed by all stakeholders. The registration process had not even commenced, except in the initial three districts.

Due to this time constraint, the government prepared a schedule that appeared rushed to the general populace. For instance, voter registration in the city of Bosaso took place in January of this year, and the registration team was present for only a few weeks. Approximately 80,000 people were reported to have registered during that period. However, it is important to remember that the population of the city is over 1.5 million. 

When asked about how it was possible to conclude the voter registration within a few weeks and a year before the actual presidential election, a member of the registration team explained that there were insufficient resources for the government to extend their stay in the city any longer. The team and their equipment had to travel to the next town. This raised questions about how the government, unable to manage voter registration in two to three districts simultaneously, would be able to conduct actual voting from Bosaso to Kalkacyo in one day. The answer remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to be a simple one. 

Reportedly, the youth hired for voter registration were not paid, and some of them refused to return to the post when they were asked to give out the voting cards. Six out of ten of the youth originally hired for the voter registration returned to work knowing that they would not get paid. The youth was told that international community which promised to finance the election asked Puntland to cover the cost and will be paid later. 

It was also reported one third of the voting cards were not distributed because registered voters returned to their rural areas without waiting to pick up their voting cards. 

Some of those who are registered to vote are not even familiar with the qualifications or experience of the candidates. According to the election procedure, voters vote for a party, not a candidate. If a party obtains enough votes for two seats, those seats will be given to the first two people on the party list. If certain people thought they were voting for the third ranked person on the party list but the party did not win three seats, those voters would be disappointed because they failed to understand how the system worked.

Parties’ campaign opportunities were not fair, and many are still wondering why the parties agreed to participate in an election clearly not based on a level playing field. For example, the president, his vice president, the chairman of the parliament, most of the ministers and the parliamentarians belong to the Kaah party. During the voter registration, the government staff were with the voter registration team campaigning for their party while using the government resources. The cars they were driving, the guards who were with them and the gas they used for their vehicles were all government resources. 

Only two parties – Kaah and Mideye – were able to campaign in Kalkacyo stadium because only those two parties had access to the government resources. All other campaigns, those without access to resources, were not able to campaign successfully. It is like one person competing against another person who has been given a two-mile head start in a five-mile race. Of course, the chance of the person starting two miles behind the competition has zero chance of winning, unless a miracle happens. 

It is time for President Deni to consider all of the above and come to the negotiation table, where agreement can be reached on a process which all stakeholders find fair. The president should realize that Puntland is moving away from the election process it has relied on for the last 24 years, and that before the election takes place, another process must be implemented based on one person, one vote. If the president proceeds with the current type of election with all its constraints, President Deni is the one responsible for any negative consequences.

The president should explain to all stakeholders – to people in general –what policies he has in mind for putting into practice regarding the election. It is not fair to wait until council elections are concluded before outlining the government’s next steps. All opposition parties should come together to negotiate on the election process. The only time one person can gain the moral high ground required to rule is if there is an agreement on the election process. Without such agreement, it is like someone dictating to all the others, and this will eventually lead to disaster. 

By: Mohamed Abdiqafar Haji Hussein
Atlanta, Georgia

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