Somalia’s suffrage proposal: Forecasting potential headwinds

Kampala (Caasimada Online) – Amid the intense political storms lashing Somalia, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud recently unveiled a series of radical propositions to transform the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential one, provoking acclaim and consternation among various political factions.

The pivotal shift advocated by the President during the four-day National Consultative Forum (NCC) summit held in Mogadishu is the re-establishment of universal suffrage, a democratic principle last exercised in Somalia in 1969.

In this proposed system, citizens would elect their leaders through a direct vote, an idea that has proven elusive for the past several decades due to persistent security issues, financial constraints, and deep-seated clannism.

The new political structure

In addition to the quest for direct elections, the NCC communiqué, read by Federal Minister for Interior Affairs Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, envisages a radical transformation in Somalia’s political hierarchy.

The communiqué declares the planned abolition of the prime minister’s role at the federal level, proposing instead an executive team composed of a President and Vice-President, popularly elected on a single ticket.

“There will be a presidential system whereby a president and vice-president will be elected directly by the people in a single ticket,” the communiqué announced.

The NCC also seeks to establish two official political parties in the country to foster democratic competition.

“The country will only have two political parties that will compete democratically for the people’s vote,” the communiqué declared.

Election timelines

According to the NCC’s propositions, Somalia will conduct municipal, state, and federal elections every five years.

The first nationwide local council elections, encompassing Mogadishu, are slated for June 30, 2024, with state parliament and leadership elections following November 30, 2024.

However, the agreement remains silent on the fate of the presidency when the current term expires on May 15, 2026.

Despite the optimism surrounding the proposals, notable opposition has emerged. Puntland leader, Said Abdullahi Deni voiced his concern over the transition to a presidential system, cautioning that his state would neither endorse nor abide by the communiqué.

This stand reflects a growing rift between Deni and the federal government, evidenced by the Puntland leader’s absence from the recent NCC meetings and his cessation of collaboration with the federal government.

Similarly, a cohort of influential politicians, including former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and three ex-Prime Ministers Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, Abdiweli Ali Gaas, and Hassan Ali Khaire, have openly disputed the NCC’s proposals.

Gaas, a former Professor of Economics at Niagara University in the US, declared on his Facebook page that the proposed electoral accord is unfavorable for Somalia, especially under the current political climate.

Sharmarke, in a tweet, was more critical, terming the move “akin to injecting poison into our political landscape.”

Proponents speak up

Nevertheless, reform proponents believe it is a significant step towards genuine representation of the people.

Political commentator Guled Dheere expressed that abolishing the 4.5 clan-based power-sharing system will lead to politicians being held accountable to the public.

President Mohamud and Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre have also voiced their enthusiasm, envisioning a future where Somalia will move from a Provisional into a Permanent Constitution, facilitating the emergence of recognized political parties, time-framed democratic elections, and enhanced stability.

The NCC’s proposals have generated conflicting views, leading to the rise of two different schools of thought.

One, championed by President Mohamud and like-minded regional leaders, pushes for an accelerated state-building process, even amid the prevailing challenges. This includes the contentious proposition to abolish the role of the prime minister.

On the other hand, some advocate for a more cautious approach, emphasizing the need to establish a proper multi-party system, enhance security, and conduct a comprehensive population census and citizen identification to ensure an appropriate voter registration ahead of elections.

As the debate continues, it remains to be seen which way the scales of Somalia’s political future will tip.