2016 Blueprint: Pilot elections based on district model

By Abdihabib Y. Warsame

With August 2016 approaching and the current Somalia leadership having proven incapable to deliver elections for the Somali people in 2016, the most frequently asked question remains: “What is going to happen in 2016?” The question begs for much more substantive discussion than the cosmetic answer offered by the current Federal Government (FG) leadership. We’re only nine months away from August 2016, and yet there is no election model entrenched in the political system, nor institutions sophisticated enough to withstand the potential mayhem that often emerge from ‘microwaved’ elections. It is outright negligence, but the rumor has it that the current Somalia leadership seemed to knowingly ignore this pressing problem of needing to lay the foundation for open and transparent elections in hopes of residual power.

Now, from where I sit, if elections equate ‘power transfer’ with some type of pilot elections there may be a slight chance of success. Nonetheless, I would caution the risk of a piecemeal approach that too often prompts political tensions and could lead to an outcome of fiasco proportions.

Options Debated Thus Far

Let’s explore the options debated thus far and analyze their implications:

a) The 4.5 option

b) Regional leaders selecting and appointing members of parliament

c) “Enhanced legitimacy,” a term ‘coined’ by the current Federal Government

d) District election model

e) Pilot election?

The 4.5 option. The common theme and recurring argument rallied against the 4.5 option is that it seems to embolden backward thinking, a lack of innovation, and an unequal distribution of power. Somalia has utilized the 4.5 model for over a decade and always produced the same outcome. Naturally, 4.5 produces poor-quality MP’s who in return elect low-quality Presidents who are unlikely going to attract capable ministers. The law of attraction says, “You attract what you are.” Similarly, the law of harvest says, “If you sow an apple seed, you will only harvest an apple, not an orange.” The theory is that with 4.5 you’re going to get what you have always got…nothing more…nothing less!

Regional leaders appointing MP’s. The notion of handing over the nation’s future to a few actors is quite a dangerous one, and at best, undemocratic. The idea is fundamentally bankrupt and obviously rewards only a few people, and threatens the legitimate interests of others, and above all, ignores the voices of the majority public. In theoretical perspective, this model validates the old anecdote which argues that “Somalia politics is self-centered.” How on earth state actors and outgoing government leaders would appoint accountable and responsible MP’s is beyond imagination. By all accounts, this approach is ludicrous, and at best, deceptive to the Somali people.

Abdihabib Y. Warsame
Abdihabib Y. Warsame

Enhanced legitimacy. This option has been given a wrong name and should be called ‘extension legitimacy.’ Either way, this option will be a hard sell for those whose core belief is that the federal government should have a minimal role in deciding how elections will take place in 2016. It is helpful to reflect upon and acknowledge the feeling of disconnect and mistrust between the current federal government and its citizens. Many contend that the current Somali government failed to engage an effective command of governance that is satisfactory to the standards of Somali people. In addition, this option lacks explicit details and therefore raises more questions than answers. The consequences from this option are staggering, especially the key structural issues that extend beyond the current jurisdiction which Somalia is in control of. Another provision with this model that raises eyebrows is the idea of delivering thousands of people from their respective districts/cities and delivering them to the capital cities of the regional states. This proposal is not only ill advised, but it’s quite a disservice to those citizens who could simply cast their votes while remaining in their cities.

District Election Model. While the idea sparked many comments and drew a lot of attraction, from a practical point of view, full-fledged district elections are impossible to hold before a number of pieces come together. Perennial challenges include an official count of Somalia population, voter identification, line demarcation of distinct boundaries, etc. In order to ensure the likely success of district elections, the above measures must be met.

Pilot elections based on district model. While this model may not be without pitfalls, it is the only model that can strike a true compromise, and could deliver a rigorous outcome within a very short time span. Correspondingly, this will safeguard the integrity of the process, preempt election fraud, and give access to many individuals and groups who have traditionally been marginalized through the 4.5 model. Furthermore, many theories support the idea that the best way to organize and control elections is through a district level process.

District Election Model: How does it work?

Counties identify and send 5-10 delegates to represent them in their district conference. Depending on the size of the district, around 150-250 delegates will elect a Member of Parliament. Simply put, counties are the means to selecting delegates using a show of hands. Normally, these members will represent their county at the district convention. As manifested in the Constitution, the apportionment clause explicitly states that “all Federal Member States should have an equal number of representatives in the Upper House of the Federal Parliament.” In the current House of the People of the Federal Parliament, seats are apportioned based on 4.5. In this model, parliament seats are apportioned among the states based on district. I’m not a philosophical king, but this model is perfect for a federal system, because the Federal law doesn’t dictate how the states choose their delegates, so individual states decide what process to use. Furthermore, this model is not only cost-effective but is manageable, especially given the time and resources we have available. The model also deters election fraud and the potential influence of both the federal and state governments, and above all, people will go home feeling the decision takes place in a safe environment that is free from repression. Democracy rests on its structural process and on increasing accountability and legitimacy of government. The government must acquire power through elections to gain wide recognition and to reduce the impact of those in opposition to legitimate democracy.

Who will develop the rules?

The total number of delegates each county will have to send to the district convention is dictated by state rules. The state will determine the number of delegates through a formula factoring in county/district size by counting the counties in a district. Secondly, the state will have the mandate to manage the election process together with traditional elders and civil society groups if needed.

How will counties decide their delegates? 

With the help of the state government, the counties will gather, discuss and vote for candidates of their choice that will represent them in the district conference. Typically, 5-10 people vote for one delegate per county. Alternatively, as time and resources mark a sharp threat, Issimo and regional leaders together with civil society may task this selection.

What if there is no State?

In Al-Shabaab controlled territories or areas where state government has not yet been established, the Federal government will have to define the role of the traditional elders and civil society groups to appoint their potential Member of Parliament. This has to be done in recognition of the fact that the roles are clear and openly defined.

Total number of people voting?

In this model, roughly between twenty-five thousand (25,000) to thirty thousand (30,000) people will come out on Election Day and cast their votes for both the Upper House and the Senate. Considering the situation Somalia currently is confronted with, this will be quite a milestone. More importantly, this will be a preparatory phase for full district elections the next time around.

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Abdihabib Y. Warsame

Abdihabib Y. Warsame is a policy analyst who writes on Somalia issues and currently teaches at Minneapolis Community & Technical College (MCTC). Mr. Warsame also consults with various organizations both in Minneapolis and elsewhere in United States. He can be reached at [email protected]

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