New Somalia president faces myriad challenges

Tuesday February 07 2017

Somalia's presidential election will be held on February 8, 2017. TEA GRAPHIC | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The next Somalia president will inherit a long list of challenges including economic, terrorism, clan rivalries and food insecurity.

The new leader must also foster deeper co-operation among regional states and inclusive politics. These are some of the issues seen to play key role on determining the outcome of the presidential election on Wednesday.

A total of 23 candidates are competing in an election that has been postponed four times since August last year and which is supposed to prepare the country for one-person one-vote in 2020.

Most of the candidates have criticised the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, who is seeking re-election, of failing to stop the Al Shabaab terrorism menace with attacks on key government installations and popular hotels in the capital Mogadishu having increased since he took over in September 2012.

The country has also not had an effective central government since President Siad Barre’s military regime was overthrown in 1991. The Horn of Africa nation plunged into lawlessness and clan rivalries that provided fertile ground for the Al Shabaab militants.

The venue of the presidential election, delayed over insecurity concerns posed by the terrorists, has been moved from the Police Academy in the middle of Mogadishu to inside the heavily guarded Aden Adde International Airport for fears of an attack.


The election

The chairman of the 17-member presidential election committee, Mr Abdirahman Beileh, said that strict procedures have also been put in place to minimise risks of rigging. Exact number of poll papers will be printed inside the voting hall shortly before the elections to curb incidences of ballot stuffing, he said.

The election of members of the bicameral Parliament which began in October has been rife with allegations of corruption.

A total of 329 MPs —275 from the Lower House and 54 from the Senate— will elect the president among the 23 contestants.

Most of the candidates have dual citizenship and mainly live in United States, Canada, Europe and a few shuttle between Kenya, Tanzania and Mogadishu.

A winning candidate must garner two-thirds of the votes cast — about 219 ballots— to clinch victory in the first round. Otherwise, the voting proceeds to several rounds with the least voted dropping out, or those with little chance of winning throwing their weight behind others after lobbying.

A four-horse race

So far, sources say that the contest has narrowed down to four main candidates from the Hawiye and Darood clans. From the Hawiye is President Mahmoud and his predecessor Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, while those from Darood are Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, and Abdullahi Farmajo, an ex-premier.

The 4.5 clan system (four major clans plus a cluster of five small clans) favours the majority Hawiye to clinch the presidency.

This system of voting has been criticised for being susceptible to manipulation and a source of inter-clan divisions that has seen a high turnover of prime ministers in the past.
The four main clans are the Darood, Dir, Hawiye and Isaaq.

President Mahmoud is said to have lobbied nearly 50 per cent of the MPs but he is facing an equal number of those supporting ex-president Sheikh Ahmed and Mr Farmajo.

Pollster report

However, the latest election survey report released by Data Grid Somalia—an independent commercial research firm—shows that none of the candidates is likely to win the first round.

In the report, President Mahmoud leads with 43 per cent, Mr Sharmarke (29 per cent), Sheikh Ahmed (16 per cent) and Farmajo 12 per cent.

The data was collected from face-to-face interviews with 175 MPs from both houses between January 31 and February 3.

Data Grid says those surveyed said peace and security was the chief priority concern. This, they argued, should include the strengthening of the Somali National Army (SNA), reducing territorial control of the Al Shabaab, upscaling intelligence and coordinating with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeepers.

This was followed by strengthening regional federal states. Since 2012, six regional federal states have been created, excluding the Banadir region (Mogadishu). They are; Puntaland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Baidoa, South West Interim Administration, and Jubbaland.

Unlike 2012 when the president was elected by 135 clan elders, the current election initially involved 14,024 persons designated by the elders, who picked the 275 MPs and 54 senators.

Data Grid predicts that the incumbent is likely to win on the third or fourth round.

Mr Beileh said the newly elected president will be installed immediately after the announcement of the final results on Wednesday.