Many countries around the world have delayed or canceled elections for fear of Covid-19, and some did for political reasons.
More than 50 countries have delayed national or regional elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a research from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
In Somalia, the term of the current parliament will end in six months, and the president and his government will have just two months to leave office and hold an election, but it is still unclear whether the country will have elections in December 2020 for parliament and February for president due to Covid-19 pandemic and other political factors.
Even if there will be elections, Somalis still do not know which electoral model to take. Somalia is in dilemma; it has two electoral options, one person, one vote and the clan system, each with its own risks. However, some within the government and its international partners want to gamble and subject the country to universal suffrage although Somalia has not fulfilled some key conditions to hold this kind of election. Others fear the introduction of universal suffrage may make them lose power, which they enjoy now because of a clan power-sharing formula.
Somalia has more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus, with the first case recorded on March 16. The pandemic has disrupted the normal life as the government suspended international flights except for humanitarian purposes, closed schools, mosques and restricted gatherings and imposed nigh-time curfews to slow the spread of the virus.
The government is struggling to contain the spread of the virus and has little resources to deal with this pandemic. The country’s health system has been gutted by three decades of conflict.
Opposition parties are already worried that President Mohamed Farmajo might use Covid-19 fears to delay both parliamentary and presidential elections and prolong his stay in office.
In May, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre told members of his cabinet that ‘holding a timely election is more important than anything else at this time and it’s one of the primary goals which the public entrusted us.’
Although the government said it is committed to hold the election time, it could take advantage of article 53 of the new election law which says that ‘elections could be delayed if serious circumstances such as widespread insecurity, diseases and natural disasters arise.’ The electoral commission could ask for a delay if it feels it is unable to hold elections within the time allotted.’ Some parts of the country remain under the control of al Shabab, making it difficult to conduct a direct election.
The pandemic has also affected the electoral process, delaying the return of parliament to resolve election-related issues.
Elections have been rescheduled before. The presidential election cannot happen in February 2021. No doubt about that because of procedural delays. The last two presidents had their terms extended; Sharif Ahmed extended his term by a year following a wrangle with his prime minister – the current president – and Hassan Mohamud stayed six more months in office. This time the concern is an extension of another year or two.
The Forum for National Parties (FNP), an alliance of six political parties, including two parties led by former presidents, Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Mohamud, accused the government of ‘overlooking the urgency of implementing the multi-party system in the country, and interfering in the activities of a joint parliamentary committee on elections, leading to suspension of its work drafting and completion of an electoral law, saying those are tactics to delay the polls.’
An election delay might also result from logistical challenges. Somalia procures election materials from abroad and Covid-19 created challenges for manufacturers. The procurement of election materials might take time.
Somalia has little time to prepare and it should act quickly.
The government should not try, deliberately, to extend its term in office to ‘buy time to organise an election.’ This will be a reputational risk for Somali’s statehood, and it could plunge the country back into crisis, jeopardizing gains made in the last few years.
Whatever electoral form the country decides to pursue, it should not lead to violence, and should come as a result of a consensus on a clearly agreed time-table. To avert any crisis, the government and the opposition must start dialogue on electoral process before it is late.
White House endorses Somaliland, Taiwan diplomatic ties
The United States is backing the recent diplomatic engagement between Somaliland and Taiwan, a decision that will infuriate both Mogadishu and Beijing.
The support comes barely a month after Hargeysa and Taipei announced they are opening representative offices in each other’s capital.
On July 1, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taipei and Hargeysa had agreed to establish ties based on ‘friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.’
The two sides have signed agreements in February 2020, but only made the details public in July. According to the agreement, the new relationship will focus on agriculture, education, energy, fisheries, health, information and communications, and mining.
“Great to see Taiwan stepping up its engagement in East Africa in a time of such tremendous need. Taiwan is a great partner in health, education, technical assistance, and more,” the US National Security Council said in a tweet.
The National Security Council is the principal forum used by the US President for consideration of national security, military and foreign policy with senior national security advisors and cabinet members.
The move by the US will enrage China, which says the People’s Republic of China represents ‘whole of China’ on the global stage.
China describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
While the United States has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.
Taiwan is claimed by China, which sees the island part of its own territory. Beijing says the island could be brought l under its control by military force if it deems necessary. In elections and public opinion surveys.
Somaliland is a self-declared republic which broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 when a coalition of clan militia toppled President Siyad Barre.
Although no country recognises Somaliland, it has an effective government system; has its own currency, a central bank, police, army and other state institutions.
Only 15 countries recognise Taiwan as an independent nation.
Somaliland is located in one of the most strategically contested parts of the world – The Horn of Africa. The region serves as a political and cultural bridge between Africa and the Middle East and borders the Red Sea — a gateway to the Suez Canal and a vital corridor for maritime trade.
Kenya to reopen places of worship next week
Kenya will reopen its places of worship in four phases beginning Tuesday next week, the Interfaith Council looking into opening of mosques, churches and temples has recommended.
However, there are guidelines to be met before the reopening takes place. These include; hand-washing, wearing of proper face-masks at all times, practicing social distancing, no more than one hour service, attendance of not more than 100 people at a time and people aged above 58 years of age should not be allowed in.
The council, working with the ministries of health of interior, said it had meetings where it received views from various religious leaders on how places of worship would begin operating in compliance with health safety rules.
Kenya closed mosques, churches and temples mid March after the country recorded the first few cases of COVID-19.
Somalia has a ‘man problem’, and it needs to fix it
This week, a group photo of director-generals of government ministries appeared on social media. The director-generals were 22, all men. Somalis asked, where are the women? No one in government bothered to answer that question.
While there are an uncountable number of professional Somali women, the photo gave the impression that there are no women who are qualified to hold this kind of work.
Somali women are under-represented in every sector of the society: economic, social and politics. The minimum quota for women in parliamentary representation is 30 percent, but this has not been achieved yet: women have just 24 percent of seats.
Although this is an improvement, women were not involved in the initial stage of the election. Currently, the Somali politics is a clan-based which requires male traditional elders to select delegates which would in turn elect members of parliament. Even if the country goes for a direct election, women will still face the same challenges.
Women rights are some of the many casualties of a three-decade old civil war in Somalia that followed the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991.
Somalia is now ranked the fourth most dangerous country to be a woman and the endless civil war continues to fuel violence against women.
The government has taken positive steps to create laws that guarantee women their rights, doing away all forms of discrimination in employment, politics and education. The problem is it has not been implemented.
For example, in 2016, the cabinet proposed a bill, known as the National Gender Policy, and sent it to parliament for approval. It is still lying there. If passed, we do not know when, women will the legal rights to earn as much as men and to run for political office, including the presidency.
A number of women have declared their interest to stand in the last presidential election, but withdrew their candidacy due to threats from al Shabab group and other sections of the society.
Islamic scholars as well as ordinary Somalis condemned the bill. They said it promoted Western culture by granting “excessive” rights to women, and some even thought it endorses same sex relationships.
Al Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the government in Mogadishu, has also condemned the gender policy at the time, saying it “promotes Western culture.” A pro-Al-Shabab website Somali Memo reported the policy under the headline: “Somali government passes law legalising same sex marriage.”
The country’s top Islamic body, the Somali Religious Council, reacted to the proposed gender policy bill. “It is a dangerous policy, which has nothing to do with Islam,” said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed, the council chairman.
It is a recipe for rebellion against their parents and husbands; a situation that is likely to weaken Muslim society, the council’s chair said.
In an interview with Radio Shebelle, Ahmed accused the peacekeeping force Amisom – African Union Mission in Somalia – of promoting the policy by helping organise women conferences. This prompted Information Minister Mohamed Mareye that Amisom was not involved in policy making.
Social media users reacted too, with many contributors mistaking the “gender equality” to mean same sex marriage.
The Somali Religious Council later said it supports the bill after consulting the government, although it insisted the policy gives ‘excessive right’ to women.
In 2013, a court in Mogadishu handed a six-month jail sentence to a 19 year-old woman who said members of the country’s security forces raped her. Two journalists who reported the rape were also jailed for “defamation and insulting state institutions.” Reporting on rape is one of the most sensitive topics in the conservative Horn of Africa nation due to culture and social stigmas.
And in 2018, al Shabab killed a woman they accused of being married to 11 women at the same time. They buried her neck-deep and stoned her to death at a public square in southern town of Sablale. Victims of al Shabab brutality do not get fair legal representation at al Shabab “Islamic courts”.
These are just examples, a big number of Somali women continue to suffer the same way.
Until the government changes its behaviour toward women and women in parliament and outside of it speak up for their rights, more than half of Somalia’s population will continue to suffer in injustice.
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