Between direct election and 2016 indirect election for Somalia: A middle ground electoral model

Somalia’s federal and state leaders are currently in Dhusamareb discussing the upcoming 2020-21 federal elections. Dubbed Dhusamareb II, the President and Prime Minister of the Federal Government and presidents of Puntland, Jubaland, South West, Galmudug and Hirshabelle have held closed-door meetings on modalities of the election for a number of days. The Benadir governor is not attending the meeting. There are many delegates accompanying the federal and state leaders, but the deliberation is exclusive to the seven leaders.

There are high hopes that a positive outcome and political agreement on elections will come out of this meeting as it is a chance that will not be regained easily. There is little time remaining for the Federal Parliament and President. The mandate of the two chambers of Somalia’s Federal Parliament ends in late December 2020, while the president’s term ends in early February next year. On the 27th June, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) chair presented a statement to the House of the People for deliberation and agreement. This indicated that the election could not happen on schedule, but that it could take place in either March or August 2021 depending on two voter registration options – biometric voter registration or same-day manual registration.

Moreover, when the scheduled meeting between the federal and state leaders in Mogadishu in early this month failed, the Galmudug President convened Federal Member State Presidents in Dhusamareb. In a communique, the FMS presidents stated that the election should happen on time and invited federal leaders to join them and discuss election modalities. Further, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers issued a statement after a virtual meeting calling for the election to be held on time. President Farmajo welcomed the Council of Ministers’ position.

Direct election vs indirect election

Although both the Federal and State leaders indicated their willingness to conduct the Federal elections on schedule, there are two strong opposing positions. The Federal President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo (along with the speaker of the House of the People and the NIEC) strongly supports an election as detailed in the National Electoral Law – i.e. a direct election involving biometric voter registration, albeit one that still retains the 4.5 clan representation formula. His contention is that the country has a legal document that guides the national elections and that Federal and State institutions are required to implement it.

The Federal Member States, on the other hand, want to employ the 2016 indirect election model, albeit with some modifications. In 2016, this model used the ‘4.5’ clan formula and involved clan elders selecting electoral college delegates across the regions. These delegates elected MPs, who in turn elected the President. This model involved around 14,000 people. However, the details of the model that the FMS are proposing are not yet clear.

Both options have strengths and weaknesses. If the current National Electoral Law is applied, the constitutional mandate of the two chambers of parliament would elapse, and they would need (technical) extensions. Implementing the electoral law is also associated with security, financial and technical challenges.

The model used for the 2016 elections has also many limitations. The corruption and manipulation was wide. Clan elders were given the authority to appoint electoral colleges. And state presidents had significant influence in the outcome of the process. In retrospect, the use of the same 2016 model would also imply that the incumbent federal government has not made progress towards democratization and elections.

A middle ground option

There is a middle ground between direct elections defined in the national electoral law and the 2016 indirect election model. This option combines the qualities of the national electoral law and the 2016 indirect election and could be a solution for the current stalemate between the leaders currently meeting in Dhusamareb.

Firstly, in this new option, the election of the 275 members of the House of the People of the Somali Federal Parliament would be based on the clan power-sharing model defined in article 12 of the National Electoral Law. Each clan will retain its current proportion and allocation of seats in the lower house.

Secondly, the election would take place in a minimum three districts of each Federal Member State. This would be an improvement of the 2016 indirect election where the election was concentrated at the capital cities (some of them interim) of the FMS. It is also an advance on the recent electoral regulation (passed by the House of the People) defining geographic seat allocation, which vaguely decentralizes the election to the pre-1991 18 regions (without defining specific districts in each region).

Thirdly, the same-day manual registration option presented by the NIEC to the parliament will be applied. This would eliminate the role of clan elders in the upcoming election. It is also appropriate for election security as the assigned task force will only be required to secure polling centers for a limited number of election days. This would also minimize corruption incidence as the candidates would not know who will cast a vote for the seat. To avoid ballot stuffing and multiple voting, international and national observers and the media will be present in each polling center.

Fourthly, a National Transitional Electoral Commission would be jointly established by the federal and state leaders whose mandate would be managing the election transition of the House of the People. The commission will have sub-committees in each electoral district. This would address the FMS concerns about the NIEC as a partisan body. It will also build confidence among the federal and state governments.

Fifthly, the election of Somaliland representatives will be as detailed in the election regulation recently passed by the House of the People of Somali Federal Parliament. The regulation mandates a separate commission for the election of Somaliland representatives and around 80 electoral delegates for the election of each representative.

Finally, the Upper House members would be elected by the parliaments of the Federal Member States. It will follow the same process employed in 2016 for the election of the Upper House representatives. This is a familiar process, and it will limit the duty of the proposed National Transitional Electoral Commission to the management of the election of the 275 members of the House of the People.

This could be a win-win option

The model proposed above is a combination of elements from both the 2016 election model and the electoral process defined by the National Electoral Law. It could be win-win option for all stakeholders for a number of reasons. First, the election would be held on time. The proposed model does not require a prior voter registration, and huge financial and technical preparations. It will make sure that the constitutional terms of the federal parliament and president are abided to.

Second, it eliminates the role of clan elders in the next election. There are concerns that al-Shabaab will influence the outcome of the election if clan elders are given again the authority to hand pick the electoral college. The same day  voter registration model will address such  concerns.

Third, the proposed model increases the number of voters participating as there will not be a pre-selected number of Electoral College Delegates for each seat. Importantly, the model widens the geographic locations in which the election would be held. In 2016, the election was limited to 6 towns; now the electoral districts will be increased to 15 districts and Mogadishu.

Finally, the election model proposed minimizes the occurrence of corruption. Since citizens vote for the candidate they want, it would be difficult for contending politicians to bribe voters. It will also eliminate the opportunities to unduly influence clan elders as they will not select the electoral college.

The Somali people are looking forward to the outcome of the Dhusamareeb conference between Federal and State leaders. Based on SPA’s current and past analysis, this commentary’s aim is to contribute a new middle-ground option that could enable leaders agree on an urgently needed electoral model for Somalia.


Election Series: Parliamentary and presidential elections are expected to happen in Somalia in late 2020 and early 2021. At Somali Public Agenda, we have begun a series of commentaries and briefs concerning these elections. Each commentary or brief analyses election-related themes. This commentary is the seventh paper of this series. SPA welcomes and very much appreciates comments, feedback and ideas relating to Somalia’s anticipated elections.

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