Monday, September 25, 2023
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Somalia’s implications for the local elections in Puntland

By Muhammed A.Mohamoud

Following the early election of three districts in October 2021, Puntland hosted a historic local election for the first time since it was founded. Out of 33 districts with registered voters, 30 were casted ballots for the local council; while three were postponed due to a political impasse in the Nugaal Region. As required by the constitution, seven (7) political associations are vying for the top three (3) spots in the table (although a cabinet-approved amendment would increase the number of parties to five (5) and is awaiting parliamentary approval). The districts with 33, 27 and 21 council seats are classified A, B, and C respectively.

Puntlanders lined up to cast their vote for local council election. Photo credit PDRC

Puntland was created in 1998 by local political leaders and traditional elders in Garowe. This historic election would revitalise the semi-autonomous state of Somalia and further unleash the power to the local authorities for better service delivery and closer administrative response to the people. Before this election, clan elders who had traditionally chosen the district’s mayor in highly competitive elections, as well as the Puntland parliament for the state level, selected the council members rather than political parties.

One-person, one-vote elections were held in Puntland for the first time in more than 50 years, with the exception of the self-declared republic of Somaliland. So what does Somalia gain from these polls?

The Puntland advocacy for federalization through government decentralisation to member states will be strengthened as a result of this local election. Puntland’s elections will further distribute authority to peripherals in action affirmation. Establishing federal member states without giving local districts a mandate from the people will result in El Dorado capital cities and weaken the federalist spirit. Rural areas are left in a vacuum created by outside forces, which fosters the growth of extremism and clan warlords.

As a result, this local election will boost member states’ confidence in implementing one-person, one-vote systems in their individual regions without having to go through the drawn-out process of the Pundland’s unwillingness to hold the polls.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were allowed to register and vote in the Puntland multi-party elections. According to the UNHCR Somalia data portal, 388,500 IDPs live in Puntland out of 2,9 million IDP in Somalia. since southern Somalia is where the IDPs in Puntland are from. As a result, this is a chance to promote inclusivity and integration since they will be able to voice their concerns and exercise their right to vote. Like all IDPs, the IDPS in Puntland are still having difficulty finding permanent housing (houses built of corrugated iron and cramped quarters) and land for settlement. However, for the time being, they might receive consideration from the local government to seek long-term fixes to consider an important component in the community. For instance, Muhsin Abdullahi, an IDP candidate, won the Qardho district in the early elections held in October 2021. Muhsin, Bantu ethnic descendants from southwest Somalia: Thay are the backbone of the construction section in Qardo district. This marks the first time an IDP candidate was elected to the Puntland legislative house at both the district council and state levels.

On the other hand, if this occurs in further regions of Somalia. Many IDPs have since relocated to regions far from where they first lived. As the number of IDPs increases due to conflict-ridden regions and the spread of climate change effects, this is also good practice for a long-lasting solution for IDP integration in host communities. Additionally, this will mend the society’s divisions brought on by the destructive civil war.

The representation of women reached 30% in all three districts in the polling conducted for the 2021 municipal elections, and it is anticipated that this election would follow suit as needed by the TPEC quota standard. Women and young people had the largest advantages among the officially declared candidates in this election. According to the Population Estimation Survey for Somalia (PESS), which was conducted in 2014, this is encouraging for the youth, who make up about 81% of the population and are under 35. As a result, the federal government created a national youth policy with the goal of empowering youth via leadership engagement and agency for change. Therefore, this election of Puntland automatically recognizes the federal policy encouraging youth participation in politics.

Every municipal and state election for the indirect election in Somalia has been tainted by corruption because the nation has consistently ranked high on the list of the most corrupt nations according to the Transparency International’s corruption index. Therefore, the municipal elections will eradicate corruption or at the very least reduce it to minor incidents. Even though there hasn’t been a thorough investigation into corruption, there haven’t been any news stories about it like there had been in the pilot elections, and there haven’t been any widespread rumours regarding the validity of the one-person, one-vote elections in Puntland. No political party had brought up a case of corruption or expressed concern about the electoral commission or the ruling party misusing public funds. Since it is still too early to draw any conclusions about these elections, a new study by Simon Chauchard, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College in the US, contends that buying votes may not always be effective.

The Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission (TPEC) valued effort and is positioned under three possible lessons for other member states of Somalia. As there was not a single complaint made across all media channels, the TPEC administration successfully managed voter card distribution, digital registration, and conducted fair and free elections. Election locations and the election monitoring centre in Garowe were observed by the Transitional Galmudug Election Commission, whose chairperson, Halima Yarey, praised the electoral process, to organise an election of this magnitude with little resources, knowledge, and experience in a region that is nearly the size of the UK. The member states of Somalia will need to be informed of these lessons and given an example of best practices in how to manage the TPEC’s overflowing expectations and public astonishment at the political parties vying for promotion.

Additionally, the TPEC manipulates new political obstacles, district demarcation, and sometimes actual physical hurdles to obstruct the delivery of election supplies to the intended polling places.  This time, it appears like TPEC matured to defend the vulnerable local elections by displaying resiliency, staying away from hotspots, and holding polls in a timely and peaceful manner. Other prospective member states will learn from this how to manage local elections in tense situations as well as buying-in to the political parties for their actions.

Overall, despite numerous challenges looming over holding elections in many regions of the country, these elections resurrected the country’s elections as the first African nation to go to the polls following independence and galvanised the hope and prospect of election to the rest of Somalia. Spite of the state’s economy being unable to handle such massive local elections in 30 districts, Puntland held its elections without any outside assistance (there are pledges but no official sponsors). This would end the mindset of not holding elections without financial guarantee from donor counties and enable the electoral commissions to operate on a tight budget for maximum efficiency and election sustainability in the future. Therefore, every issue on the ballot in Puntland’s election serves as a lesson for the rest of Somalia and the other countries on the continent that are situated in a similar political context.

Muhammed A.Mohamoud
Email: [email protected]

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