The ‘Electoral Constituency Caucuses’: Analysis of the new electoral model agreed in Dhusamareb

On Thursday, 20 August 2020, the president of Somalia, leaders of 3 federal member states (Galmudug, South West, and Hirshabelle), and the governor of Benadir region agreed and signed a new election model dubbed the Electoral Constituency Caucuses’. The agreement was reached after a series of talks held in Dhusamareb, the capital city of Galmudug. At the conclusion of the previous Dhusamareb (2) conference, a joint technical committee from the federal government and federal member states was proposed with the mandate to explore electoral models and present options to the leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMS) in a third Dhusamareb meeting, which was slated for 15th August. After meetings in Mogadishu and Dhusamareb, the technical committee proposed 3 models, one of which the leaders had to settle on.

Notwithstanding the fact that two federal member states (Puntland and Jubaland) boycotted the most recent meeting, the remaining leaders resolved to proceed with the discussions and unanimously settled for a hybrid model that increases the electorate and voting constituencies, among other new provisions. The new hybrid model awaits the endorsement and/or amendment of the House of the People and, of course, the other federal member states who didn’t attend the Dhusamareb 3 meeting.

Features of the new electoral model

The electoral model is an enhanced version of the 2016 indirect election. It seeks to increase the size of the electorate by almost 6 times. The number of electoral constituencies is also increased, which means the voting activities are devolved to a district level. It also introduces and incorporates a party system.

First, the number of electoral delegates for each seat of the House of the People of the Somali Federal Parliament would be 301. The clan elders and members of the civil society would pick the electoral delegates. This is almost a 6 times increase of the 2016 indirect election delegates where 51 electoral colleges voted for each seat of the lower house. However, there are concerns about the number as well as the logistics and the assembly of hundreds of electoral colleges together.

Second, every federal member state would designate at least 4 electoral constituencies (districts) where the elections will be held. In 2016, elections were only held at the capital cities of FMS and Mogadishu. This model proposes more electoral constituencies to be identified and elections devolved to sub-region level. It is also in line with Somali Public Agenda’s recent proposal to set a minimum of three electoral districts in each federal member state.

Third, delegates for every 3 to 5 seats at the same electoral constituency to be merged and would vote for all the candidates who are vying for those seats, which means delegates will have more than one vote. This enhances the legitimacy of the MPs who through this approach would have a large and quite diverse representation base. It could also minimize the chances of corruption and election malpractices.

Fourth, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) will manage the election. In conjunction with federal member states, the NIEC will establish an inclusive vetting committee composed of the elders and civil society from each clan and for every seat. This clause suggests that the electoral delegates for every seat or clan be selected by a committee composed of elders and members from the civil society including academics from the said clan. The purpose is to come up with delegates who inclusively reflect clan demographics and are amongst the most respected in the clan. This is hoped will help minimize corruption and enable the candidacy of all-round MPs with enhanced legitimacy among the constituency they represent. However, there is some legal contention on the mandate of the NIEC and whether its mandate extends to managing indirect elections in this way.

The NIEC was also given the authority to relocate seats allocated for electoral constituencies that are insecure to other electoral constituencies that have more reliable security. A similar clause was also in the resolutions presented by the joint parliamentary ad hoc committee that drafted the election regulations but in a slightly different formulation. It proposed that any seats that are to be voted in a constituency that has security and political issues should be relocated to Mogadishu. It seems now that the relocation aspect has been made quite flexible and not confined to Mogadishu only. Some of the seats with the said circumstances can be relocated to other constituencies in the same state/region and not necessarily to Mogadishu only.

Fifth, voting would take place across the country on the same day. This implies that the election of the 275 MPs of the lower house will be held across the 5 Federal Member States and Mogadishu in just 1 day. The logistics, human resources, and security needs of this approach are undoubtedly significant and would require efficient planning and coordination. Given the 2016 experience, indirect elections of such nature are unlikely to be feasible in one day.

Sixth, representatives of Somaliland regions at the parliament would be elected in an indirect election. Somaliland seats were elected in Mogadishu in the 2016 elections. 51 delegates voted for every seat in the same fashion as other seats across the country. Now that the number of delegates is proposed to be increased, Somaliland seats will require a special arrangement. The current model has not proposed anything on this front. The same number as 2016 or a slightly higher number of delegates (but less than 301) might be appropriate to agree on going forward. However, the new model is itself an indirect election, and it is not clear whether the representatives of Somaliland regions would be elected through the 2016 indirect election process or the election regulation recently passed by House of the People where about 80 electoral delegates were proposed to elect each seat from Somaliland.

Seventh, the new model proposes that political parties would participate in the election. The practicalities of this are not yet clear. Currently, there are 100 provisionally registered parties. Requirements for full party registration are difficult to meet – parties need 10,000 eligible voters as members, and the party should have offices and members in at least 9 of Somalia’s 18 pre-1991 regions. The realistic option seems to be to allow Parliamentary candidates to be affiliated with provisionally registered parties.

Eighth, the model proposes the regional assemblies to elect members of the Upper House. This means the election of the senators will follow the same process as 2016. In a commentary published by Somali Public Agenda last month, the same arrangement for the election of the Upper House members was proposed. This clause, however, may imply that the 13 senate members for Benadir recently passed by the House of the People will not be relevant for the next election as Benadir has no regional assembly to elect senators unless a special arrangement is put in place similar to that covering Somaliland representation.

Ninth, the agreement states that it will be presented to the House of the People of the Somali Federal Parliament for approval. This conforms with the speech of the president to the House before he travelled to Dhusamareb. Despite current political divides, it seems this model would have to be taken to the lower house for endorsement. They may propose amendments to some of the sections, or reject it or pass it as a whole. There is no explanation of why the Upper House was excluded from the approval process. This also does not address how a political agreement that does not go through the legal process and a parliamentary hearing would become a legal document, and how the country would have two different binding (and contradictory) election laws.

Finally, the new model proposed a 30% quota for women. Article 23[3] of the National Electoral Law mandated a 30% minimum quota for women in the Somali Federal Parliament. The joint parliamentary ad hoc committee who were tasked with fine-tuning the electoral law have previously proposed that the current seats filled by women, which make 24% of the two chambers of parliament, be contested by women only in the upcoming election. It also asked the NIEC to solicit the remaining 6% of the 30% from the clans that did not fulfill the women’s quota in the 2016 election. The new model doesn’t provide any details on how the quota can be achieved and whether it endorses the suggestions made by the ad hoc committee.

Missing elements

There are missing elements and some issues in the election model agreed in Dhusamareb that need more detail and clarifications. The number and composition of the committees of traditional elders and the civil society selecting the 301 electoral colleges for each seat have not been defined, and the criteria to select these members have not been proposed. The 135 clan elders who selected MPs in 2012 were the base for the selection of electoral delegates in 2016. These clan elders are registered at the federal Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation. Which criteria will be used for the composition of the civil society and clan elders’ committee is an important detail that needs to be explained. Equally important will be to illustrate how this would minimize the potential for al-Shabaab influence in the selection of the electoral delegates.

The mobilization of the necessary resources and logistics is a paramount aspect that this new model has currently left out. The projection is that an electorate of over 80,000 will participate in the election, which would require 275 committees (of unknown size) to vet electoral delegates, NIEC staff on the ground, and other logistic items. This will likely cost several million dollars.

The issue of Benadir region has been completely left out. Representation in the Senate, and whether the 13-member representation is viable, seems to have not been considered. Whether Benadir will have a special arrangement similar to Somaliland representatives in the Upper House – or whether its representation would be paused until the status of Mogadishu is defined – remains unclear.

Finally, dispute resolution mechanisms (election disputes, corruption cases) have been underestimated and not mentioned. With a model like this where a large number of people will potentially vote, a transparent and inclusive dispute resolution mechanism is essential to put in place.

Policy considerations

  1. Puntland and Jubaland should be brought on board to have a say on this new proposal. Failure to do so will lead to serious credibility issues, and it will be hard to implement the proposal on the ground. The issues around elections – including the proposals passed by the House of the People, which were initially objected by some of the federal member states – should also be reviewed in order to achieve a middle ground.
  2. Political parties should be given consideration and consulted with since a political party system will be a part of this model. Their views should be taken into consideration as this could create a sense of ownership and generate political goodwill.
  3. Civil society usually has a stake in important civil exercises. In order to contextualize this model further, civil society actors should be included in the ongoing discussions.
  4. The NIEC trust issue needs to be solved. Puntland and Jubaland states have had no working relationship with the commission for almost a year now. Many of the political groups feel a similar discontent and suspect a lack of neutrality on the part of the NIEC. To bridge the gap and boost confidence, federal member state election commissions could be given a role in the election management to ensure inclusivity, checks and balance, and relevance on the ground. Dispute resolution mechanisms should also be explored and put in place before the elections are conducted.
  5. The 30% quota for women should be safeguarded by seeking and adopting a clearly defined strategy that will ensure the quota is achieved. The NIEC can be tasked with coming up with a feasible strategy that draws lessons from the 2016 elections and by consulting with female leaders, women-focused civil society organisations, as well as the traditional elders.
  6. The issues of the management of Somaliland seats ought to be approached in a bi-partisan way. Decisions on how the election of Somaliland seats will be conducted should be arrived at after consulting with the current representatives from Somaliland in both houses of the federal parliament, and the traditional elders of Somaliland. A special arrangement based on the best-case scenario should be designed.
  7. Electoral constituencies should be reviewed. The current proposal, which calls for at least 4 electoral constituencies in every member state, is very ambitious and seems oblivious of the huge administrative, logistical, and security challenges. Three electoral constituencies can adequately achieve the target that this model seems to pursue.
  8. It is highly unfeasible for the election to be held simultaneously across the country in just one day. 30 days will be ample time to hold this type of election (Including the selection of vetting committees, delegates, and then MPs) without much pressure and with a considerable margin of error.

This commentary is co-authored by Abdimalik Abdullahi and Mahad Wasuge.


Election Series: Parliamentary and presidential elections are expected to happen in Somalia in 2020-21. 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 eighth paper of this series. SPA welcomes and very much appreciates comments, feedback, and ideas relating to Somalia’s anticipated elections.

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