SOMALILAND ELECTION 2021: Why this Election is Different?

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The people of Somaliland have been electing their political representatives for almost two decades. From 2002 to 2017, Somaliland held a number of different elections, including Presidential, local council and parliamentary elections. The process had begun with formation of the political association elections intended to be held in every 10 years to give an opportunity to new political parties and the three associations that get the most votes become official political parties. In the peaceful transfer of power, Somaliland presidents have done something good.  For example, President Riyale was known as an instrumental in the movement of the democratization process after holding local, parliamentary and presidential elections. This has given a chance for the spread of the governmentadministration to the regions, while president’s term Silanyo was aimed at development and fascinated foreign investment. The current Somaliland government also stepped up efforts of establishing solid diplomatic and economic relations with many countries in the region and beyond and has the intention to gain recognition.

However,  this month, the country is in an election season; people will be heading to the polls in May 31st, 2021, to exercise their power and rights deciding who will represent them in the Parliament – the lower house – and the Local Councils through a democratic voting system of one man, one vote.In every corner across the country, you can come across a billboard of the candidates, which is typically found in the main streets of each city. Nicely written slogans intended to attract the attention of the voters are on each billboard. Simultaneously, each candidate promised numerous developments and pledged to fix all existing problems, which the community is currently complaining about. Time will reveal the truthfulness of these nice slogans, and whether they will succeed in a way that their predecessors have not. 

According to Somaliland National Electoral Commission’swebsite, almost 1.3 million people have officially registered to vote in the forthcoming joint elections on May 31, 2021. NEC has also charted out 1,642 polling stations across the country in which the elections will take place among 23 electoral districts in the six regions of the country. This type of election is unique to the history of Somaliland’s election trajectory. First, it is the first time that two elections of two different governmental bodies were planned to be held jointly in the same day withsame pallet. Secondly, in the past, the local council elections were the entry point of the new political associations every 10-year. The three associations who get the most seats of local councils used to be the official national political parties in the country in one decade after they get the certificates. This election, the process has changed and the three current political parties are contesting for local councils, while the outgoing parliament has amended also the political association law (Law No. 14/2011) to align with these changes. 

Although this election requires huge preparation, logistics arrangements and millions of dollars, the entire process is organized and mostly financed by the Somaliland government. As government sources revealed, the total estimated cost of the election is an amount equivalent to $20.8 million of which $15.8 million from Somaliland government and the other $5 million from Taiwan and the International Community. Even though, there were furious political disputes over the process of the election for the last two years among the three political parties;eventually they have decided to set aside their political differences in order to guarantee that these elections take place in a smooth way. The two opposition parties are willing to get more seats in the upcoming Parliamentary election since the government’s party has the majority of the outgoing parliament. 

The other interesting issue of this election is that it has a direct effect on the next Presidential election. Citing one of the top leaders of Waddani party, the importance for a party to get the speaker of the House of Representatives and the mayors of the main cities, including the capital, Hargeisa will have major influence in the control of the public administration and remarked that his party is vying for these positions to underpin their effort  and grab the power, since the current incumbents are from the ruling party and had a big role in the last presidential election which their party lost it

Looking at the side of the coin, the downside of this election is the revival of the clan politics and clan-based model of election. The role and influence of the traditional elders has shot up since they have the primary responsibility when choosing who will represent their clan in Parliament or Local Councils. A constituency election system is recommendable and will be a better process which can wane the influence of the clan with the Somaliland election process. Currently, the candidates get use to the lack of this parameter, and they have the opportunity to mobilize a wide area or region, which his or her clan inhabits,and use the clan as a campaign tool for getting more votes and increase the turnout of their voters. The people are optimistic about the election climate, and they believe that the smoothness and wholesomeness of the forthcoming election process will have embolden the long awaited recognition, which Somaliland has been questing for the last 30-year.  

Due to sustainable peace, peaceful transfer of power and zero international intervention has made the Somaliland’s democratic system a shining star of the Horn of Africa – a region where fair and free election can’t occur and is engulfed by ongoing conflicts and despotic regimes. In a nutshell, we are calling for the politicians, leaders, election candidates and other Somalilanders at all levels, your thoughts/struggles should be based on public common good/public interest and realize the severe difficult we (our people & the country) went through and still  striving for recognition and  notably, you have to know that this current election will be a major step ,that can hasten our long awaited recognition since it has coincided with a period that Somaliland has celebrated for  its 30 years of independence.  Now it is right to call Somalilandthe mother of democracy inthe horn of Africa, when startedfrom Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia;there is no place where such elections took place.    

This Article is contributed by Muse Jeeh; a freelance writer based in Hargeisa, the Republic of Somaliland and Mohamed Gahayr; a researcher based in London, UK and both can be reached at mohamedgahair@gmail.com and Majeex2004@hotmail.com respectively.

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