Federal state bosses set for kingmaker role in Somalia’s presidential election

Saturday August 07 2021
People protest against Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

People protest against Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu over delayed elections. PHOTO | FILE


Somalia is putting on a brave face and promising a transparent election, even as the first Senate polls in the three federal states elicit old problems for the country.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hussein Roble promised what he called a “peaceful and transparent” election, after finally resolving a dispute over who should conduct elections for Somaliland representatives.

That solution, which means that the region’s appointed electoral committee can go ahead and plan for Senate elections, was, however, only half the solution elections in Jubbaland and South West have elicited protests of unfairness, with allegations of the federal state presidents playing king makers.

The challenge, some observers and Somali politicians admitted this week, is whether the country can hold indirect but fair elections, while also fulfilling the 30 percent quota for women.

Mr Roble has already appointed “goodwill” gender ambassadors to travel across the country to preach gender equality. Women, however, say the problem is systemic.

Zahra Haji Khalif, a women’s rights activist in Mogadishu, told The EastAfrican that Somalia’s decision making is male-oriented contributing to women’s poor participation. “Our lineage is patriarchal and that renders women’s participation in clan-based and power sharing politics null,” said Ms Khalif.


State Presidents in the federal regions have come under fire of eclipsing key challengers and discrimination of women in Senate seats, seen as a longshot to controlling how the federal presidential race will be held. So far, Jubbaland, South West and Galmudug have held partial elections for Senators with a consistent pattern of withholding and tinkering with names. Puntland, Hirshabelle and the special seats for Somaliland could follow the pattern.

After elections in Jubbaland, state President Ahmed Madobe opted not to table nominees for all eight seats. But even in the four seats, politicians opposed to his rule were removed from the list sent to the local parliament to be voted on.

In that race, outgoing Senators Faduma Sheikh Dahir “Gerio” and outgoing Deputy Speaker of the Senate Mawlid Hussein Guhad were locked out of the candidature in spite of their protests.

Claims of discrimination by women were louder on Monday as South West held its Senate elections, choosing representatives of the first five of eight seats allocated to South West.

Like Jubbaland, local state President Abdiaziz Laftagareen, chose to nominate candidates for the five seats, instead of eight.

South West President Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed Laftagareen decided that six male candidates would compete for three seats and two female candidates for one and they had been chosen “on the basis of the serious intentions to contest.” In Somalia’s new election agreement, federal state leaders have been given powers to nominate Senate candidates whose names are then sent to the local legislative assembly to vote, eclipsing the traditional influence peddled by clan elders in Somalia in the election of the Upper House.

Observers of Somali politics were quick to say the state presidents could only overreach in Senate elections, where they have direct powers to vet the list of nominees fronted by clan elders. But they did agree that some of the problems cited so far could cause delays as the federal chiefs tinker with lists, and pacify protests.

“Elections will surely be delayed once again. The perceptions, the papers and the Benjamins will decide the elections,” Adam Aw Hirsi, a Somali political analyst told The EastAfrican on Thursday, referring to the role of money and the election timelines that show presidential polls will be held on October 10.

Aw Hirsi, said the Senate is influential in determining election trend, but only by a small percentage given only 54 Senators vote for the president compared with 275 MPs. “The Senate is 16 percent of the parliament and Farmaajo will have over 50 percent of the Senate if the trend continues,” he said referring to events in federal states where he enjoys political support in Hirshabelle, Galmudug and South West, while heavily opposed by leaders in Jubbaland and Puntland states.

“The devil will be in the lower house. The Senate is just a piece of cake. The devil on steroids is lurking there.”

As opposed to the Senators, 101 delegates vote for every MP in the Lower House, leaving the federal state leaders little chance once elders have handpicked voters and tabled to the electoral committees. Yet, the Senate may still cause animosity. When he tabled the five candidates to the local legislative assembly for the vote on Sunday, Laftagareen defended the list as balanced. But two outgoing senators Ilyas Ali Hassan and Hussein Sheikh Mohamud who had been omitted, protested.

The two leaders belong to opposition parties and complained immediately that their seats had been targeted to ensure only those allied to Laftagareen are elected.

“It is not doubt that I bothered the oppressors. Everybody knows what has happened today,” Ilyas Hassan told The EastAfrican on Wednesday, citing his opposition leanings.

“I promise the people of Somalia that we will stand up for the democracy, sovereignty and development of Somalia.” His seat was won by Zamzam Ibrahim Ali after it was allocated to female candidates.

The nominees were supposed to be based on clan balancing, but the ousted leaders protest they were fingered for being in opposition. In South West, Hassan is the Secretary for Foreign Affairs of former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s party, Himilo-Qaran while Mohamud is a senior member of the UPD party led by another ex-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

In Jubbaland, ousted politicians had been seen as pro- President Mohamed Farmaajo.

Analysts agree that if the Senate polls follow the trend where federal state leaders tinker with lists based on their political relations with President Farmaajo, three in five states could make a senate favourable to Farmaajo.

But clan politics is still critical, and whoever has money and connections will need to panel beat the Lower House too, they say. In Galmudug, which was voting for the Senators on Thursday, the region is also native to several presidential contenders including Farmaajo, Abdikarim Guled, Hassan Khaire, Mohamed Geele and Abdishakur Abdirahman who may scoop infLuence from the local federal President Ahmed Karie Qoorqoor.

“It's too early to rule out any frontrunner presidential candidates, but the real battle will be between two political camps; namely one led the current president Farmaajo versus the opposition leaders key president candidates currently in an unholy alliance of [ex-President] Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and [Puntland President] Said Abdullahi Deni,” argued Aden Abdirisak, a political analyst on the Horn of Africa.

“In that case, there will be a need to have a wide, inclusive political umbrella where political brokers camp and ideology-driven teams will feel that they can live with the coming four years.

“The one-million-dollar question is; who will be a viable dark horse? A unifier presidential candidate who fill that political vacuum a political opportunity created by the fierce fight of vote-buying, intense political pressure, and coercion,” he told The EastAfrican, suggesting other top contenders could profit from the focus on President Farmaajo.

Whether the election calendar runs as planned or is even delayed again, the pattern of the ongoing elections may only be clear once the entire federal parliament has been voted in.

Each of the five states has a specified number of seats to fill in the Upper House, often based on an arrangement known as 4.5 for clan representation. But while the law presumes the selection is based on merit; political interests too.