Direct election or ‘enhanced indirect’ election for Somalia? Analysis of the relevant regulations

On 7th June, the joint 17-member parliamentary committee tasked with the preparation of election regulations – which requires only parliamentary approval – submitted two draft regulations to the speakers of the two chambers of parliament for discussion. The first regulation, which consists of 5 chapters and 9 articles, defines the seat allocation, women’s quota, and representation of the Benadir region in the Upper House. The second regulation, which consists of 12 articles, defines the (s)election process of representatives for  Somaliland (or northern regions).

The committee stated that they consulted with several stakeholders including representatives from the National Independent Electoral Commission, the Ministry of Interior, the Benadir Regional Administration, the parliamentary women’s caucus, politicians from the northern regions, and members from the international community, notably the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and the European Union, the British and Italian ambassadors. The committee canceled planned consultations in the Federal Member States due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they managed to conduct some of these online.

Geographic locations for parliamentary seats  

Article 5 of the regulation explains the geographic seat allocation for the two chambers of parliament. The article proposes that the election of the 275 members of the House of the People and the 54 members of the Upper House will take place in Somalia’s 18 pre-1991  regions. The designated regions for each seat of the two chambers of parliament were elucidated in two tables. Article 5 also states that the proposed seat locations in the tables should not be construed as an official geographic location for the seat and should not be used as a reference in the future. This means that this list is only tailored for the upcoming political dispensation.

Article 5 further stipulates that if the seat cannot be voted for in the proposed region due to security or political obstacles, the election of such seats will take place in Mogadishu. The National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) – with the suggestion of the National Election Security Task Force – would share with the political parties the election sites for such seats with the reasoning for why the location is suitable for the election.

The proposed geographic seat allocation clarified some important aspects necessary for the election, but some details remain unclear. First, since the 275 seats of the House of the People of the Somali Federal Parliament are based on 4.5 clan power-sharing (as explained in article 12 (3) of the national electoral law), the joint parliamentary committee profiled the clan constituency of the existing MPs and the dominant region of each clan or sub-clan and proposed a region (not a district) for each clan seat. While this reflects how Somalis inhabit in each region, certain sub-clans inhabit more than one region. The electoral process would allow voting (for their clan seat) for only those clan members in the designated region.  Those in other regions would, however, still have the opportunity to vote but for someone from a different clan.

Second, the committee suggested code names in the place of clan names. For instance, the seat name of Maqalsame sub-clan of Duduble would be the abbreviated HOP#026, which means seat number 26 of the House of the People. Hiding or changing the clan name when the entire process is based on clans does not change the reality that the upcoming parliamentary (s)election would be clan-based. What is different is, however, that the clan elders who selected the electoral college in the 2016 indirect elections will be replaced by the NIEC voter registration process that itself still remains unclear.

Third, the proposed geographic seat allocation lacks important details on the exact location of the election of seats. Each region in Somalia has several districts, and clans or sub-clans are dominant in one or more district(s) in the region. The regulation does not specify the districts that the election of each clan seat would take place in. Moreover, the regulation does not indicate if the NIEC would be able to organize voting for one seat in more than one district in a region or more than one region if the sub-clan for the seat inhabits more than one region.

Fourth, there is no clarity on how voters will be registered, and how the voting for a certain seat would be arranged. For instance, if an eligible voter is living in Mogadishu, but the parliamentary seat of his clan is designated in Galgaduud region, how would that person participate in the election? Important details on how voters will be registered, and how citizens would vote for clan seats is not clear in the draft regulation.

Finally, article 5 of the seat allocation, women’s quota, and Benadir representation regulation did not clarify the electoral arrangement of the Upper House. Similar to the House of the People, the 54 Upper House seats were given code names, but the electoral process of Upper House seats and how this would be similar or different from that of the House of the People is still unclear.

Women’s quota

Both the Provisional Federal Constitution (Article 11) and the National Electoral Law (Article 23[3]) mandate a 30% women’s quota in the Somali Federal Parliament. Article 6 of the seat allocation, women’s quota, and Benadir representation regulation suggests that the current seats filled by women, which make 24% of the two chambers of parliament, would only be contested by women in the upcoming election. It also asks the NIEC to solicit the remaining 6% from the clans that did not fulfill the women’s quota in the 2016 indirect election.

The 2016 indirect election significantly increased female representation in the 10th parliament. This was the result of women’s designated seats where only female candidates were eligible to contend. It is an already tested process, and if replicated, it could result in increasing (or at least maintaining) the 24% female representation in the next parliament. However, there are legitimate concerns. Aspirant female parliamentarians for currently male occupied seats (although they are eligible to contest for the seat) will have a narrow chance to get elected due to the presence elsewhere of female designated seats. Likewise, some clans currently represented by women feel that the female representation should be rotational and should not only be applied to them. The proposed female representation arrangement does not address these concerns.

Representation of Benadir region

The status of the Benadir region in a federal Somalia is not yet defined, and Benadir has no representation in the 54-member Upper House. The joint parliamentary committee proposed 7 additional senators for the Benadir region, which would make the total number of Upper House seats  61. The committee also suggested amending article 72 of the provisional constitution, which currently limits the number of senators to 54.

While the proposed 7 member seats could give representation to the Benadir region in the Upper House, it does not address the status of Benadir itself. Since the Upper House was established to represent the Federal Member States, one could ask how 7 senators represent Benadir when its status in the federal system is not defined. On the other hand, the parliamentary committee did not explain how the 7 members of the Benadir region would represent residents of Mogadishu. The 275 members of the House of the People are based on clan power-sharing formula, while the Upper House members also represent clans at the Federal Member States level. Details are missing on why there would be 7 members representing Benadir, and how they would be elected or allocated among residents in Mogadishu.

Election of northern regions/Somaliland representatives

Article 4 of the regulation defining the election of the representatives from the regions in Somaliland states that the election of those seats would happen in Mogadishu. This is because Somaliland has declared its independence from Somalia, and its government (based in Hargeisa) rejects any involvement in federal elections to a parliament based in Mogadishu. The (internationally unrecognized) Republic of Somaliland has its own parliament and electoral systems. Article 5 proposes an electoral model (Single Seat Plurality) for the election of representatives to Somalia’s Parliament from regions inside Somaliland, which would be in line with the wider 4.5 seat allocation (as stipulated in article 12[3] of the National Electoral Law). A minimum of 81 eligible voters would be registered for the (s)election of each clan seat, and 3 persons will verify the authenticity of the registered voters.  The election would proceed if 50% of the registered voters (41) are present.

A separate electoral body (article 6) would manage the election of representatives from the northern (Somaliland) regions. The NIEC appoints the 9 members of this committee. The mandate of the committee (article 7) would include registration of voters, registration of election observers, receiving the list of candidates, and coordinating the election venues with the NIEC and the National Election Security Task Force, managing the voting and announcing election results. Each candidate for a parliamentary seat would pay a $2,000 non-refundable registration fee (article 8). Article 11 also proposes a dispute resolution committee of 7 members. Each complainant would have to pay $1,500, and the committee would decide on the case within 3 working days. There is an option to appeal the dispute resolution decision to the High Court within 7 days, and the court will issue a verdict within 15 days.

The regulation defining the election of parliamentary seats for northern regions (or Somaliland) has some details, but also drawbacks. First, the regulation effectively limits the number of people that could vote for a seat. Although it did not limit the number to 81, it seems that less than 100 persons from the relevant clans but living in Mogadishu would be gathered to vote for their clan seat. This is different from other seats where the number of voters is not defined.

Second, there is no clarity as to who would be the 3 persons verifying the clan affiliation of the individuals registered for the voting. Although naming clan elders was avoided in general, their role here seems inevitable for the election of representatives from Somaliland regions.

Third, since the selection of the electoral body and the members of the dispute resolution committee is done by the NIEC and the venue for the election of the seats is limited to Mogadishu, the seats for Somaliland regions would potentially experience manipulation. The proposed arrangement for the election of representatives of northern regions gives a comparative advantage to the incumbent administration and/or influential politicians from Somaliland.

An opportunity for synergy

Few months remain of the mandate of the current parliament. No voter has been registered; the revised political parties bill has not yet been deliberated or passed; and each clan would still contest for their clan seat, albeit with a new code name. The two regulations defining the geographic allocations for seats, women representation, Benadir representation in the Upper House, and the election of representatives from Somaliland regions illustrate that the upcoming (s)elections are a hybrid model – between indirect elections and full One Person One Vote system.

In 2016, the indirect elections took place in the capital cities (some of them interim) of Federal Member States. This time, according to the new proposed regulations, the election would be decentralized to the 18 Somalia regions (although the importance and status of regions has significantly diminished after the establishment of the Federal Member States). However, regions themselves consist of several districts, and the specific districts to which MPs will be elected is not yet clear.  Moreover, many seats will be (s)elected in Mogadishu. The (s)election of parliamentarians representing Somaliland and those representing regions and districts that are insecure will be organized in Mogadishu.

Although legalizing such an indirect electoral process would be a setback for developing Somalia’s nascent democracy, it fits both the proposals of the incumbent government and some opposition politicians (including some of the Federal Member States). It is also a familiar process.

This creates an opportunity for synergy. President Farmajo and the speaker of the Upper House both announced a (separate) meetings with the Federal Member States. If the end goal is to facilitate an enhanced electoral process, then working together and striving for a more transparent and less corrupted political transition will be crucial for the way forward.


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 sixth paper of this series. SPA welcomes and very much appreciates comments, feedback and ideas relating to Somalia’s anticipated elections.

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