By Abdirahman A. Issa
Puntland state founded in 1998, has undergone four peaceful power transfers, with the sole exception of the incident during the tenure of its first president, Abdullahi Yusuf. President Yusuf’s attempt to extend his mandate resulted in a constitutional crisis, ultimately escalating into a full-blown war. Regrettably, the stability achieved through successful power transfers may be at risk once again due to the power-driven actions of the current President, Said Abdullahi Deni. With less than two months remaining until the scheduled election date of January 8th, there are no indications that it will proceed as planned.
President Deni is steadfast in his insistence on conducting presidential and parliamentary elections through popular vote. However, his management of local elections and perceived dictatorial tendencies have eroded trust. Most political parties and presidential candidates have expressed discontent in joining his efforts to hold a tailored election to ensure his victory.
Following consultations in Garowe, most traditional elders have dismissed the feasibility of a popular vote due to disagreements on the process and time constraints. They propose a return to the clan system, where clans would nominate 66 representatives to elect the president.
Despite this recommendation, President Deni has rejected the ruling, asserting that political parties and the Puntland Electoral Commission should be responsible for deciding election matters. Nevertheless, concerns about the commission’s independence arose when it released a timetable without consulting political parties. This has fueled apprehensions about the fairness and transparency of the electoral process.
President Deni has exhibited an unyielding conduct for five years, enabling him to achieve his objectives without facing checks. He orchestrated the removal of the speaker of the Puntland Parliament and eight Members of Parliament (MPs), avoiding repercussions. Subsequently, he manipulated and corrupted the federal election of MPs and senators from Puntland, further solidifying his control and operating the state according to his preferences without facing consequences.
President Deni was applauded when he held the first popular vote for the early local council elections in Puntland on October 2021 for three districts, but unfortunately, the momentum of the democratization was slowed down, and was put on hold due to his ambition at the federal presidency, while he was campaigning for the presidency of Somalia’s federal government. The president also refused to allow some districts where he lost to the oppositions to seat the elected councils and mayors, causing many to lose trust.
When he lost the presidential elections for Somalia’s federal government, he restarted the process and held local elections for the remaining districts except the capital city of Garowe and two other cities in Nugal region. The disputed election led to a war between the government and clan militia from Garowe, who refused to allow local council election to take place in their districts. However, there was enthusiasm from the public in most Puntland Regions to cast their vote and elect their representatives for the first time. Once again, local council election were marred by disputes with some parties refusing to be part of the process.
Deni has chosen the populist approach and sidelined the elite. He adopted the same playbook as the former president Farmajo. It’s rare to see Deni meeting with various segments of the society, but social media influencers have access to him. The government has invited Kabtan Ayuub, a YouTuber from Germany who’s part of Deni’s campaign for the popular vote. Unfortunately, his welcome in Garowe caused a clash between militia supporting presidential candidates from Garowe, who are arguing they are the guardians of some gentlmen agreement known as – Taraha – which is a rotational presidency of Mohamud Saleeban, and government soldiers, resulting death and injury. The security situation in Garowe has also deteriorated as the anti-Deni militia roams the streets.
Deni is dividing people along clan lines, arguing that some clans is supporting his shenanigans while others are against him. He has pitted clans against each other to divert the pressure from him. When most traditional elders recommended going back to clan-based elections, he is planning to organize other traditional elders to support his plan for a rigged election. This is the first time traditional elders have been divided like this, thanks to Deni. The traditional elders have lost their moral compass and intermingled in politics. The political elite have failed to transform the state from a clan-based system to a multiparty democracy, making the role of traditional elders indispensable.
The international community has been entertaining Deni’s Plan to hold a popular vote. However, it is important that they come clean and state that they will only support an election that is agreed upon by all stakeholders. The election delay will lead to instability, and the region may descend into civil war if Deni does not come to his senses.
The only way forward is to return to the clan system and hold the elections on time. The next government must commit to proceeding with the democratization process. Passing the scheduled election date of 8th January sets a dangerous precedent for succeeding leaders to overstay their term. It’s time for Puntlanders to shoulder together and stop Deni’s overreaches to stay in power beyond his mandate and compel him to organize the election on time.
Abdirahman A. Issa
Email: [email protected]
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