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Incompatible with a free and fair election: The constitution of Puntland

By Mohamed Ismail Mohamed (Siibad)

It is true that the Government of Puntland, established in 1998, came into existence on the condition that its main mandate for the next three years was to draft a constitution and hold free and fair elections.  Unfortunately, the people of Puntland have yet to see free and fair elections. As a result of that negligence of the past governments, Puntland appears to be clinging to the last wagon of the moving train, called Somalia.  Can it lead from the front? Yes, but not with the mentality that caused Puntland to be towed by the flock.   

Last year, H.E. President Deni paved the way for the long awaited democratization process to go forward by blessing a new Puntland Transitional Electoral Commission (TPEC). TPEC immediately put forward a strategic plan for the process, which includes a plan to hold advance local elections at three specific districts ahead of the universal local elections, which is planned in October 2021.  In this article the author, who is the Chairman of Mustaqbal Political Association of Puntland and a Member of Parliament, will show that the process is flawed and cannot lead to a free and fair election as long as the variables that guide it remain the same.

It’s worth mentioning that Puntland has passed a constitution in 2012, which is the guide of the process of Democratization. Why the Constitution of Puntland is incompatible with a free and fair election?

It’s because of unclear constitution and subsequent laws that disenfranchise the candidates as well as the voters.  It’s the intentional monopolization of political power by three parties which will be declared as the only legal entities that can vie for political power in Puntland during the next 10 years.

It’s the law that denies the people of Puntland to nominate their favorite candidate for office or a “citizen” of Puntland to stand for office, unless he/she is nominated by one of the three parties. It’s the holding of advance elections at specific districts, despite it being illegal under the Constitution.   

Mind you, the process totally disenfranchises a large segment of the population and establishes the monopolization of political power by the few! Is that possible? Yes, it is possible, because on several occasions the Constitution of Puntland gives rights to its “citizens” while at the same time it hamstrings that right, either in another paragraph or by a law.  For example;Article 22 (The Rights of the Media): 1. The independent media and the press are free from government interference, they will only abide by the law. 2. The freedom of the media will be limited by a special law.

That special Law is Law No. 5 of 29/7/2014Article 6 (Things that are forbidden from the media); B. (To broadcast): 2. News and Propaganda that can damage the peace, stability of the nation, the economy and in general the interests of the People of Puntland.

Here, the Law forbids from the media to broadcast news if it damages Puntland.  Alas, the media cannot report even if the news is real news that reports the mishandling of critical issues regarding the wellbeing of Puntland, or clear squandering of the resources of Puntland by the administration in charge.  Maybe here, the law makes Puntland synonymous as the administration in charge?   

Similarly, Article 44 (Elections) of the Constitution: 1. Every citizen who complies with the electoral conditions has the right to elect and be elected.

However, this Article of the constitution is negated by Law No. 6 of 28/12/2016, which governs Political Associations and Parties.  Article 7 (1) (b & t) of this law stipulate that: 1. Any citizen of Puntland has the right to elect and be elected, however, the one who can become a candidate: b. Is one who is a citizen of Puntland, and is nominated by an association or Party, and who meets the conditions put forth by the constitution and the laws it creates. t. Must be a Muslim and a practicing Muslim.

Note that, Article 44(1) of the Constitution gives the “citizen” of Puntland the right to elect and be elected, provided that the Constitutional conditions are complied.  However, Article 7 (1) (b & t) of Law No. 6 refutes that right.  

It is remarkable, that the Constitution on the one hand bequeaths the media freedom from government interference, while on the other hand it limits that freedom without any violation of the penal code.  Equally, the Constitution bestows the “citizen” the right to elect and be elected while at the same time, that right is revoked by Law No. 6 of 2016.

In addition to the above, the Constitution on several occasions makes a population census mandatory before elections are held. According to the Constitution the number of district councils as well as the number of parliamentary representatives must reflect the population it represents. 

Regarding the census, the Constitution stipulates at Article 6 (Census): 1. For the population of Puntland there will be a census every ten years. 2. A special law will guide the time and the process.  In spite of these directives, no census has taken place in Puntland since the passing of the Constitution on April, 2012, and there is no law to that end, as of now.

One does not have to be genius to understand that the vote of one representative in the parliament carries the same weight as that of another representative, and hence each must represent the same number of people. This is made clear by Article 44 of the Constitution regarding elections. It unambiguously states that at the time of elections the number of parliamentary seats and local government seats will depend on the number of people in that constituency.

Article 44 (Elections): 5. The law will demarcate the zones for the elections of Parliament Representatives and District Councils. The number of seats that a region will have in the House of Representatives and that of the members of District Councils will depend at any time on the number of people who live in that region or district. Needless to say, free and fair elections cannot be held without census, according to the Constitution.  This means, the 66 transitional MPs can no longer be justified as they do not represent a set number of people in a constituent.    

Furthermore, Article 44 of the Constitution regarding the freedom and fairness of elections states that: 4. Voting will be universal, that everybody has the right to participate, as individual, private, and any interference of whom somebody will vote for is forbidden.  Despite this cannon of the law, which makes it explicit that voting must be universal for all the residents of Puntland, TPEC is planning to hold advance elections at three distinct districts and that the results will count.

Should this happen, it is a clear and intentional violation of the Constitution and will make the process flawed over and above the other defects of the Constitution. 

The Constitution of Puntland makes it clear who cannot stand for office and why under Article 45. Therefore, denying a resident or “citizen” of Puntland to stand for office, unless he/she is nominated by a Political Association or a Party, is simply depriving the “citizen” the right to participate in the electoral process. Not only that, it reserves political power for those who get there first. 

As shown above, the Constitution and/or some laws are incompatible with a free and fair election and hence the current process of democratization in Puntland has some serious flaws that will invalidate it unless steps are taken to rectify.  In addition, some key Articles that need implementation are sidetracked.  Therefore, without a Constitutional review, one will be dealing with the consequences and not the causes.  The parliament is a pivotal institution that is expected to and can enforce the implementation and/or the amendments of the following:

  1. Constitution: Article 22 should only state the affirmation of the freedom of the press from government interference.  Any forbidden activity must be criminal conduct under the penal code of the country. For example; if someone broadcasts fake news with the intention to cause harm or slanders someone, it is crime under the penal code. However, the press cannot be left on the whim of the government.  If an administration squanders, the media should inform the public.
  2. Law No. 5: Article 6 B (2) regarding what the media cannot broadcast should be equally expunged since without the freedom of press there cannot be a free and fair election.
  3. Constitution: Article 6 (1 & 2) regarding the census must be implemented before any possibility of elections. In turn, this will make possible the implementation of Article 44 (5), regarding the number of MPs and Council members of every region and district.
  4. Law No. 6: Article 7 (1) (b & t) should be expunged so that every “citizen” or resident who complies with the electoral conditions will have the right to elect and be elected.
  5. Constitution: Article 46 (3); The first three Political Organizations who receive the largest number of votes at the first local elections will become the official three parties. This canon should be amended since it intentionally gives monopoly of power to the few. Why three parties only can vie for political offices of the land for the next 10 years?  Why not five, seven, ten or even unlimited? Why not give the people the choice of which parties will be the prominent ones of the land in every term election? Or is it that the public are so stupid that they cannot be trusted to choose?
  6. Constitution: Article 46 (4); After every two term elections competition will start for political Associations.  This Paragraph tries to convince the public that in every 10 years a new plain level field will exists among the X-three parties of the last 10 years and those aspiring for recognition as political associations.  In other words, there will be a fresh competition between 10 years old lads and unborn babies!

In summary, one cannot doubt that those who drafted the Constitution had the wellbeing of Puntland at heart; however, the current Constitution and the laws it created cannot deliver free and fair elections, as depicted above.  A free and fair election is what can give Puntland the cohesion it dearly needs for future development and in order to lead from the front.  Accountability and transparency is what Puntland has been missing and can be achieved only by empowering the public to elect their leaders through free and fair elections. Anything less than that will lead to monopolization of political power, at best, and fragmentation at worst.    Therefore, in order to avoid that, let everybody join hands for the review of the Constitution, so that we can have reasonable outcome from the upcoming elections.  

Hon. Mohamed Ismail Mohamed (Siibad)
Email: [email protected]

Hon. Mohamed Ismail Mohamed (Siibad) is an author, academic and a former Somali diplomat and has held different duties in Puntland State of Somalia. Currently, he is the Chairman of Mustaqbal Political Association and MP of Puntland State of Somalia.

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