The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted planned events across the world; sporting activities postponed indefinitely, UN climate conference put on hold, and elections in many countries delayed.
But in Somalia, leading opposition parties are demanding for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on time, without considering whether the country can manage an election in an era of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
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.’
Somalia is scheduled to hold both parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021 respectively. Although an electoral law has been passed, it is still unclear whether the country will go for a one person, one vote election or maintain the status quo where clan elders will pick members of parliament who will in turn elect a president.
Should Somalia delay its election?
Kenya is delaying five by-elections because of Covid-19. The country has so far recorded close to 200 cases and four deaths.
Ethiopia announced postponement of its parliamentary elections, and in the US, States have put off presidential primary votes.
Elections have been rescheduled before. In 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo delayed the presidential poll because of Ebola. In 2001 the UK general election was held off because of the spread of foot and mouth disease across the country.
The most important reason for postponing an election is the health of everyone involved. It will be difficult to hold an election without exposing those involved to the risk of contracting the new coronavirus.
Although coronavirus cases in Somalia stand at seven, people should not take chances, and must abide by government directives and scientific advice in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
An election is the opposite of ‘social-distancing.’ It is a public event that deliberately bring together people to exchange ideas about the future direction of their country. It involves candidates and their supporters holding campaign rallies and events.
Elections are also supposed to be a time for talking. Simply holding an election is insufficient because citizens should actively consider their interests and the issues; weigh up competing arguments made by candidates; and discuss them around the dinner table, and in coffee shops.
Then, on election day, citizens, in this case, MPs, if Somalia doesn’t hold direct elections, turn up to polling stations (and airport hangars) and are handed a ballot paper. Election staff, who work extremely hard to keep Somalia’s democracy moving, will also be affected.
Elections do bring a lot of people together. Somalia’s election involves people and candidates coming in from Europe and the United States, the current epicenter of the novel coronavirus, unknowingly bringing the virus with them.
However, postponing an election could result in leaders, both at the legislature and the executive, remaining in office longer.
Postponement should be the last resort, but if the coronavirus does not go away in the next few months, political stakeholders in Somalia should reach consensus on a clearly agreed timetable for rescheduling is crucial. Democracy relies on a responsible government and political parties, who should put the lives of fellow citizens first before their interest.
How the ambitions of Hassan Ali Khaire contributed to his fall
In mid-2018, Hassan Ali Khaire assembled his communications team and asked them to build a strong social media presence for his office and create a public image for himself. He wanted his government’s work to be publicised and to show Somalis and the world a new prime ministerial office never seen before in the post-civil war Somalia. He wanted to portray a powerful, superior prime minister.
The immediate-former prime minister was the only government official running three different Twitter accounts. The official account for the office of the prime minister, two personal accounts; one in English (and Somali) and the other in Arabic – to communicate with the Arab world – Somalia is a member of the Arab League, and the Gulf countries play their geopolitics in Somalia. Other politicians did not think of this, but Khaire did. He is a former corporate executive and an NGO manager. Khaire understands the importance of media more than other Somali politicians do. He is the most eloquent politician Somalia has seen in recent decades.
President Mohamed Farmajo and PM Khaire set to finish their first term in office together, run for office again and return to Villa Somalia together, but Khaire had an ambition, a presidential ambition. He wanted to succeed Farmajo, and Farmajo knew it. No one saw their break up coming.
Since 2000, every president had some sort of disagreement with his prime minister. Farmajo and Khaire had disagreements but it was hidden from the public. Because of this, Khaire became the longest serving premier in the post-civil war era.
The debate around Somalia’s election of which no one knows when and how it will happen is what killed the broamance between Farmajo and Khaire. The trust between the two has been broken. Farmajo wants a direct election in which the Somali public can pick their political representatives. The president’s opponents say a direct election will not be possible, and that Farmajo is using the universal suffrage as an excuse to extend his term in office. Khaire was seen as supporting the ideas of his boss’ opponents; he always called for timely polls, although the government never said it would delay elections.
There is no love lost between the leaders of the federal member states (FMS) and Farmajo. Khaire thought this was an opportunity to exploit: get closer to these leaders and alienate the president. When FMS leaders gathered in the central town of Dhuusamareeb in July to discuss the electoral process, Khaire left Mogadishu and joined them to negotiate for clan-based election which would take place as schedule. Days later, Farmajo flew to Dhuusamareeb and joined other leaders, beating Khaire at his own game. It was a battle of tactics won by Farmajo.
FMS leaders accidentally exposed Khaire in his double-dealing between Farmajo and FMS leaders. According to privy sources, Khayre prodded FMSs to reject one person, one vote in private while he pretended to be on Farmajo’s side in public.
In one of those farewell banquets in Dhuusamareeb, one FMS leader told Farmajo to drop the quest for one person, one vote like every other principal. It was like saying, ‘your PM is with us on this.’
One Western country was fond of Khaire to the extent that their diplomats in Halane were openly hostile to Farmajo in favour of his prime minister. To that end, that particular country was indirectly pushing for indirect elections which they thought will favour Khaire. Inside sources say that this particular country pushed the envelope too hard in not only giving Khaire false hope of easy presidency but also made him alienate his boss and the parliament.
The Lower House has passed an election law backing the one person, one vote election, but the Senate isn’t convinced about the possibility of direct polls. Sources within the Senate say Khaire was behind a statement by the Upper House leadership disagreeing with the possibility of holding a direct election, and called for talks between the president and the FMS leaders. On the electoral issue, Farmajo and Khaire have been pulling from different ends, Khaire whispering behind the president’s back silently, according to Villa Somalia insiders.
“We cannot lead a country when the prime minister is working against the president. The president is giving Somalis a chance to elect their leaders direct, and Khaire is against this,” a close ally of President Farmajo told The Frontier.
On July 25, three days after the Dhuusamareeb conference concluded, the Somali parliament voted to withdraw confidence from PM Khaire and his administration. At mid-night, he accepted the parliamentary decision and resigned.
US says Somali parliament’s removal of Khayre ‘illegal’
The United States has expressed regrets over the removal of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre from office in a vote of no-confidence by parliament.
The US embassy in Mogadishu, in a statement, said there has been ‘irregularities’ in the vote to withdraw confidence in Prime Minister Khayre and his government. It said the action of the parliament and the president ‘heightened political tensions and undermined the ongoing process of dialogue and negotiation’ between the Federal Government of Somalia, Federal Member States, and other key stakeholders.
“This irregular process is a setback for the reform agenda Somalia has pursued with the support of the United States. Somalia’s stability, security, and prosperity can only be built through cooperation, coordination, and compromise among Somalia’s leaders; if any individual or institution seeks to dominate the others, it undermines the stability of the entire nation,” read part of the statement.
The embassy said the only path forward to timely, peaceful, implementable federal elections is through broad-based consultation and constructive dialogue among stakeholders.
Developing a workable, broadly acceptable election model is key to preserving Somalia’s security and stability, it said.
The US is one of Somalia’s key donors and supports its military. The United States has provided more than $3 billion in humanitarian assistance for Somalia since fiscal year 2006 to address the problems of drought, famine, and refugees. Since 2011, the United States has provided an additional $253 million in development assistance to support economic, political, and social sectors to achieve greater stability, establish a formal economy, obtain access to basic services, and attain representation through legitimate, credible governance.
Last year, the US reopened a bureau for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, that has been closed since a civil war began here in 1991.
The US has around 500 soldiers and military advisors based in Somalia that often accompany the Somali army and special operations forces on ground raids against al Shabab group.
Somali parliament removes Prime Minister Ali Khayre
Somali lawmakers voted to remove Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and his cabinet, a move that is likely to delay elections, deteriorating recent gains in the Horn of Africa nation.
A hundred and seventy members of parliament supported the vote while eight rejected, according to Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is required to appoint a new premier in 30 days, but may do so in days.
“The rift between the government and the legislature is undermining the progress that has been made, and to that end I have decided to consider the voice of the House of Representatives as the foundation of our nationhood,” Farmajo said in a statement carried on state media.
Khaire, a former oil executive, was appointed in February 23 and approved by parliament in March 2017.
The country is planning to go for elections, but it is still unclear what kind of elections it will have. The electoral commission said it is planning to hold a one person, one vote in a year, while the opposition is calling for a timely election which means it prefers the current clan system where clan elders pick legislators.
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