April 1, 2021
This commentary explains the current impasse around elections in Somalia and proposes a potential alternative to the indirect elections of the September 17 ‘Mogadishu Model’ (which now appears unworkable). This alternative involves the extension of the Somali Parliament’s mandate for 2 years and the election of new speakers. These speakers would organize a parliamentary election of a President for a 2-year mandate. The president would then put together an inclusive government of national unity. This government would be tasked with organizing direct elections in Somalia after 2 years, in which the president elected by the Parliament would not be able to stand as a candidate. This is an unusual and innovative model which – inevitably – has its own limitations. Nevertheless, this commentary argues that the current electoral stalemate and extraordinary political circumstances require the consideration of such options.
Somalia is at an uncertain crossroads. It was expected that indirect elections would be held in 2021. Although one-person-one-vote elections were originally envisaged, it became clear by early 2020 that the preparations and political will for these were not adequate. This led to the exploration of alternative model(s). After several Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and regional Federal Member State (FMS) presidential meetings in Dhusamareb and Mogadishu, an indirect election – similar to the 2016 electoral process – was agreed in Mogadishu on 17 September 2020. The agreement (also known as ‘The Mogadishu Model’) was approved by the two chambers of parliament on September 26. This was followed by an agreement on the technical details of the election on October 2.
However, after more than six months since the indirect elections agreement was signed, it seems that the agreed model is not working. Its implementation initially faced several challenges. The three main challenges that the 17 September Agreement (the Mogadishu Model) faced before February 8 (when the constitutional mandate of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo ended) related to (a) the civil servants and members of the security forces appointed as members of the federal and state-level election implementation teams; (b) the Gedo region and the federal forces operating there; and (c) the appointment of the commission managing the election of Somaliland representatives.
The challenges and dynamics surrounding the Mogadishu Model have evolved and new obstacles emerged in February 2021. These have further worsened the already fragile trust among the political elites in Somalia.
Although the Mogadishu Model was agreed on 17 September last year, in the 5 months before the end of President Farmaajo’s term, Somali leaders failed to address the above three contentious issues and thus avert a constitutional crisis in early February. The best chance appeared to be the fourth Dhusamareb meeting in early February 2021 between the National Consultative Council members (the NCC is comprised of FGS president and presidents of five FMSs and the governor of Benadir region). President Farmaajo left the meeting on February 6, two days before his mandate ended, although at that point most of the contentious issues had been agreed upon. However, the constitutional mandate of the president ended on February 8 (the mandate of the parliament had ended on December 27, 2020), and without a new plan for elections in place, the current government faces a crisis of legitimacy. The FGS stated that they are legitimate until a new government is elected although the president himself has not spoken to the public since February 8.
The contentious issues were later further agreed upon by a technical committee appointed by the Prime Minister on 16 February 2021 in Baidoa, ten days after the president left the Dhusamareb meeting. However, the agreement needs an endorsement by the NCC, which has proved a challenge as the Puntland and Jubaland presidents have both questioned the convening mandate of President Farmaajo.
Events since February 8th have further deteriorated the already fragile trust among Somalia’s political elites and have added more challenges on top of the three previously outstanding issues of contention.
Firstly, the Council of Presidential Candidates’ Union (formed in November 2020 by a group of 14 presidential candidates including two former presidents and a former prime minister) planned a demonstration in Mogadishu’s Daljirka Daahsoon, and the FGS used security forces to stop this rally. The opposition had also deployed technical and security forces, and General Indha Adde seemed to have triggered the armed clash. There was heavy gunfire on the night of 19 February near the hotel housing the two former presidents and other politicians. Subsequent firing on demonstrators led by politicians (including the former prime minister) near the airport also occurred. These events have worsened the already fragile trust. It has added another complication to the 17 September agreement as actors raised questions relating to election security and the role of President Farmaajo in the electoral process.
Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Rooble started talks with the opposition a few days after the 19 February incidents and the FGS agreed with the opposition to secure the Daljirka Daahsoon area and the demonstrators. However, another subsequent demonstration planned for 26 February did not happen. The Council of Presidential Candidates’ Union stated that the government had closed all roads and that they were thus postponing the demonstration.
Secondly, Puntland and Jubaland presidents have questioned President Farmaajo’s authority to convene the NCC meeting. Although they set conditions for coming to Mogadishu and meeting with the FGS (since the constitutional mandate of the FGS ended) to address the contentious issues of the 17 September agreement, they later came to Mogadishu (in March 2021) with the invitation of the international community. After more than a week of their stay in Mogadishu, the much-expected meeting was announced by President Farmaajo on March 20 soon after the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a press statement asking Somalia leaders to hold elections immediately. Since Puntland and Jubaland presidents publicly stated that the mandate of the President ended, and he should not convene the NCC meeting as well as disagreed with the leaked NCC meeting agenda, a partial meeting between President Farmaajo, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Rooble, presidents of South West, Galmudg and Hirshabelle, and the governor of Benadir region chaired by President Farmaajo started in Mogadishu’s Afisyoni hall (the exact hall the February 2017 presidential elections happened) on 22 March. The UN called it a pre-meeting with partial FMS representation and highlighted the need for further informal consultations to ensure full participation.
At the same time, a rival camp emerged with the Council of Presidential Candidates’ Union, Puntland and Jubaland’s regional state presidents, and the Somaliland Political Council (Somaliland politicians linked to Senator Abdi Hashi) forming the Somali National Salvation Forum. Chaired by Abdi Hashi, the Upper House chair, the Forum was established (according to a press release) with the mission to ensure free and fair elections; safeguard national unity, and maintaining political stability and national security. The formation of this forum shows how electoral politics is now split between two camps.
Thirdly, there is significant pressure from the international community, which has reiterated that they will not support parallel or partial elections and extension of prior mandates. This has led to a critical response from the FGS to other countries intervening in Somalia’s internal affairs. The FGS Minister of Information said: “That is a red line that must never be crossed.” This response illustrates the FGS’ dissatisfaction with how the international community is approaching Somalia’s election impasse.
Fourth, the House of the People of the bicameral Somali parliament has started efforts to extend its mandate and the mandate of the president for two years. Although the initial agenda shared related to Covid-19 deliberations, the parliamentary meeting on 27 March ended without opening the session because some MPs obstructed the meeting. The speaker of the House of the People subsequently issued a letter sanctioning 15 MPs to attend the upcoming five sessions for obstructing Saturday’s planned session. On 31 March, the House of the People held a session again. Although all roads to the parliament building were closed and the 15 MPs were blocked to enter the parliament hall, an extension was not discussed.
A unilateral mandate extension by the House of the People could further complicate the election impasse and could lead Somalia into uncharted territory. Is there an alternative solution to the 17 September agreement?
It seems that the Mogadishu Model is not workable. Amendment to the key components of the model, as well as restoring lost trust (including concerns of the security of the election) will require high-level all-inclusive discussion among key stakeholders. These are not evident at the present moment. To avoid a vacuum that could trigger instability and confrontations in Somalia, one option that could be explored is extending the mandate of the two chambers of Parliament and electing new speakers (six of them, three speakers of the House of the people and three of the Upper House) and a president for a new two years mandate.
This is an option that can become a solution for the current election impasse. First, the bicameral parliament – after consultations and with the acceptance of all actors – including the FMS leaders, the National Salvation Forum, and the international community – could be given a two-year mandate by the National Consultative Council with the condition that they will elect new speakers and the president. Like the September 17 Agreement, the new deal will be endorsed by the two chambers of parliament in a joint session.
Second, the parliament elects a president with a two-year mandate. A condition for the presidential candidates will be that they will not be eligible for re-election in the next election. This president (elected by Parliament) will, however, be eligible for election after the next election, when the term of his successor ends. This should be part of the signed agreement.
With this model, the election of the speakers of parliament and the president can be arranged in just three to four weeks after an all-inclusive agreement is reached. Each chamber of the parliament elects its oldest person as an interim chair, and they will select commissions that organize the election of the speakers of the parliament. When speakers of the House of the People and the Upper House are elected, they will form a joint parliamentary committee that leads the presidential election.
Third, after the election of the president by parliament, a Government of National Unity that includes all key actors will be formed. Members of the parliament should not be included in that government. This will contribute to the separation of powers of the legislators and the executive and would advance accountability and checks and balances.
Fourth, a roadmap and key priority issues will be assigned for the new Government of National Unity. The government will be asked to focus on reconciliation and trust-building, security, completion of the constitutional review, federalization, and direct elections (or an enhanced participation (in)direct election) in two years. There should be a work plan for the two years that is reviewed every 6 months for the new government by the parliament.
This arrangement has several benefits. First, it will address the election impasse that resulted from the end of the constitutional mandate of federal institutions as well as potential election-related violence. Second, the aspiration to conduct direct elections will be revived, and there will be the opportunity to organize direct elections after two years. Third, a Government of a National Unity with key targets to achieve will be formed. Finally, this will most likely bring some change to the leadership of the parliament and the president.
However, it will face several challenges. First, it will not likely get the buy-in of President Farmaajo who probably has less chance for re-election given his complicated relationship with the MPs in the last four years, as well as with the leadership of the House of the People, Puntland, Jubaland, and the opposition politicians in Mogadishu. Second, this option will not give much leverage to the FMSs who would be able to manipulate seats if an indirect election along the lines of the Mogadishu Model is actually conducted. Therefore, some FMS presidents may refuse to support it. Third, a Government of National Unity may not be able to achieve direct elections in two years. Finally and perhaps more worryingly, this could set a precedent for the parliament mandate to be extended, and MPs could seek another extension after the end of the two years.
Notwithstanding these limitations, it seems that this is a potentially viable option that could be considered for the best interests of Somalia, given the current political stalemate.
Election Series: This commentary is the eleventh paper of our election series. SPA welcomes and very much appreciates comments, feedback, and ideas relating to Somalia’s anticipated federal and state level elections.
Mahad Wasuge is the Executive Director of the Somali Public Agenda.