Somalia's Parliament postpones presidential elections

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In the Somali elections, the number of delegates who choose the members of parliament - who in turn elect the president - amounts to just 14,025. It's a rather modest figure for a country with a population of eleven million. Nonetheless it could mark a watershed on the road to democratic governance for a country long regarded as a failed state.

The 14,025 delegates, who were selected by their clan chiefs, have been choosing a new parliament for the people of Somalia over the last few weeks. That parliament was to have chosen a new president on Wednesday (28.12.2016) but the vote has now been moved back to January 24, according to the Somali electoral commission.

Better flawed than none            

"The most important thing is that the election actually takes place. Many had doubted that it would take place at all,"  Michael Keating, the special representative of the UN secretary-general to Somalia, told DW.

These are only the second elections to be mounted in Somalia since longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. In the intervening years, the country has descended into chaos. Successive governments, which were the outcome of protracted clan conferences in foreign countries, have come and gone because of inter-clan disputes, corruption and poor government practice.

At the last elections in 2012, the one-house parliament  was chosen by just 135 chiefs and the legislative period that followed was unsurprisingly chaotic as a consequence. This time there are two houses of parliament.

It is all still far removed from the principle of 'one person, one vote' which was supposed to be in force by 2016. But political reforms were delayed and Somali voters won't have universal suffrage until 2020.

Manipulation and corruption?

In the meantime, the onus is on ensuring that this year's election is as legitimate as possible. They have been hair-raising reports of seats in parliament changing hands in exchange for bribes. Jimale Farah, Somalia's chief auditor, said that a seat can cost between $5,000 (4,800 euros) and $1.3 million.

"There have indeed been many allegations and cases of votes being bought and sold, of manipulation," Keating said. "These are very serious and need to be treated as such. If these accusations aren't cleared up, the integrity of the electoral process will suffer."

Assuming the presidential election goes ahead on January 24, there will be some 20 candidates in the race. One of them - until very recently - was Fadumo Dayib. As a woman candidate, she wanted to bring radical change to Somali's patriarchic society. But earlier this month she said she was withdrawing from the electoral process which was dominated by "corruption and voter fraud."

Two candidates are tipped as front-runners. They are incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of the Party for Peace and Development and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. The chances for the remaining candidates are regarded as slim.

Power to the clans 

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a member of the dominant Haweiye clan. The 61-year-old was able to amass support among the international community and can claim to have secured the return of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Somalia. But he was unable to stem Somali's endemic corruption and only just survived impeachment proceedings in 2015.

His main rival is Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the son of revered former president and prime minister, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, who was assassinated in 1969. An economist with dual Somali and Canadian citizenship, Ali Sharmarke junior belongs to the second largest clan in Somalia, the Darod.

The clan membership of the president, prime minister and the powerful post of parliamentary speaker will determine the outcome of these elections. If the post of speaker is garnered by a member of the Hawiye clan, then incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will not be able to stay in power. The two posts cannot be occupied by members of the same clan.

Ahmed Soliman, an expert on Somalia at the UK-based Chatham House think tank, said that regional and international actors "need to exert pressure on Somalia if the supervision of the electoral process is going to be credible." Soliman added that the aim is to put the decision-making in the hands of the Somali people.

Somali's neighbors

Soliman notes that there are one-sided electoral processes in Somali's neighbors, namely Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. By comparison, he said, Somalia is performing relatively well. The precarious security situation presents the organizers of the elections with enormous logistical challenges. Over the last few weeks, the radical Islamist Al Shabab terrorist group have persistently tried to disrupt the elections with a series of assassinations.

The ongoing creation of a federal system of government and of individual regional states is a further, sizeable challenge. "We have to view these elections in context. These are hotly contested political elections and Somalia is still in a process of transition," Soliman said.

UN representative Michael Keating is "cautiously optimistic" that universal suffrage - 'one person, one vote' - will be introduced in Somalia by 2020. "But I am not saying it will be easy," he warned.

A more immediate hurdle for Somalia is the election of a speaker and president. If the elections are delayed yet again, it is difficult to see how the electoral process could recover its credibility.                                  

This Article has been cross-posted from Deutsche Welle International