Fri, Nov 25, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Democracy delayed in Somalia vote

AFP, BAIDOA, Somalia

A polling agent, right, explains the voting procedure to a voter before she casts her ballot in Baidoa, Somalia, on Wednesday last week.

Photo: AFP

With its security-sealed plastic boxes and cardboard polling booths, Somalia’s election — under way since last month and still ongoing — has the trappings of democracy, but few of the functions.

Last week in the western city of Baidoa, 51 handpicked representatives of the Reer Aw Hassan clan took an hour to vote unanimously for Abdiweli Ibrahim Ali Sheikh Mudey, a government minister and the only candidate to show up on the day.

Among Mudey’s backers were 15 enthusiastic female voters.

“We selected the most beautiful man!” one said as Mudey smiled in his dark aviator sunglasses, a garland of purple tinsel round his neck.

Just 14,025 of Somalia’s about 12 million citizens are voting for 275 members of parliament, who are to join 54 appointed senators in voting for a new president, in an election described as “limited.”

“It is a unique process and must be analyzed within its uniqueness,” said Deqa Yasin, the deputy chair of the national election body, the Federal Indirect Election Implementation Team.

The voting process has been drawn out and deadlines repeatedly missed and it is unclear when the presidential stage will take place.

Somalians were promised a one-person, one-vote election, but political infighting, backsliding and prevarication, combined with insecurity due mainly to al-Shabaab militants who control swathes of countryside and strike at will in Mogadishu and other towns, meant that plan was ditched last year.

Instead a complicated hotchpotch is in place.

It falls far short of a democratic election, but promises to be better than the previous vote in 2012, when 135 clan elders nominated all of the members of parliament.

In the absence of parties, clans remain at the heart of the process. Parliament seats are divvied up according to region and clan, with candidates voted for by “electoral colleges” of 51 representatives selected by elders.

That makes it about 100 times more inclusive than 2012, as officials are keen to point out.

Often the vote itself is ceremonial, with the winner negotiated in advance followed by the ritual placing of slips in ballot boxes.

In another country the election might be dismissed as a sham, but Somalia’s long history of conflict means this is being counted as progress.

“My voice mattered in this election,” said Halima Suleiman, a 31-year-old woman who also voted for Mudey.

“This is the first time we have seen people selecting their candidates,” said Mohamed Abdi Omar, an elder.

For Michael Keating, the top UN official in Somalia, the goal of the process is “to figure out whether and how a peaceful transfer of political power is possible.”

He listed numerous problems with the election: “intimidation, candidates being prevented from putting their names forward or prevented physically from going to locations. There’s a lot of money changing hands.”

Politics remains an elite game to which most Somalians are not invited — and they would have to wait at least another four years for a more democratic election.

“It’s a legitimate question: What are they going to get out of this process?” Keating said. “It’s a tough one to answer.”

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