A long time coming: Somaliland’s November general election

Somaliland general election is here

The repeatedly postponed Somaliland general election is finally around the corner. The presidential and parliamentary voting is scheduled to take place on November 13, 2017. The decisions since 2010 resulting in the rescheduling of the election reflect some of the difficulties faced by the political actors when seeking to reconcile the distribution of power between political institutions and the state leadership. While presidential election has been celebrated twice since 2003, the last parliamentary election took place only in September 2005. The parliamentary election scheduled for September 2010 was postponed first for five years and then again until November 2017 by the upper house of the Somaliland parliament, which emphasized unpreparedness of the electoral commission. By and large, Somaliland’s elections have been described as generally free and fair, although they have not been able to meet a number of international standards. They have been dominated by the majority Isaaq clan and its sub-sections, while sub-clans of Dir (e.g. Gadabursi and Issa) and Darod (e.g. Harti and its sub-sections such as Dhulbahante) inhabiting peripheral areas and constituting minorities in Somaliland have gained less presentation in national political institutions. Some voices among eastern groups, partly driven by a sentiment of marginalization, have called for the region’s independence from Somaliland or integration with Puntland.

Somaliland’s political institutions

Somaliland’s political institutions are an intriguing mix of modern state structures and local forms of administration. Essentially, they are a result of an agreement between the leadership of the local Somali National Movement (SNM) rebel organization exercising coercive power, and civil society leaders largely considered as legitimate in their representation of the general population. In the early 1990s, SNM and the elders in charge of clan organizations came together to constitute political institutions for Somaliland whose territories by then, for the most part, were under control of the SNM security forces. The result was a “hybrid” type of political system in which clan elders formed Golaha Guurtida, the House of Elders, an 82-member upper house of the Somaliland parliament that functions as a traditional forum for negotiation. The House of Elders has been a key institution in mitigating inter-clan and sub-sectional conflicts of interest in a peaceful manner.

Somaliland: A case of success and legitimacy

The success of Somaliland’s political institutions in maintaining stability despite occasional obstacles in the democratic process largely rests on their legitimacy. This legitimacy is a product of mixed bottom-up and the top-down process of state-building in which authoritative representatives of the society have been crucially present. In 2002, the interested and politically most influential parties decided to embrace a multi-party democratic system in which three official political parties are allowed. The level of political engagement and plurality have maintained a sense of ownership of the political institutions among the citizens. This has allowed them to consolidate to the extent that even the postponing of the election has not significantly undermined their authority and legitimacy.

In the past, international observers have considered Somaliland elections as relatively free and fair. In this year’s general election chairmen of the three official parties contest the presidency. The current president of the republic, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” from Kulmiye (Peace, Unity, and Development Party) is to make way to one of the three candidates after approximately seven years in office. In November 2015, his party selected Musa Behi, its chairman since 2010 and a former air force officer and SNM effective, as its presidential candidate. He will run for presidency with incumbent vice president, Abdirahman Abdullahi Ismail “Zeili’i”.

Faisal Ali Warabe

First of the two contestants seeking to take state leadership from Kulmiye is Faisal Ali Warabe, main founder and chairman of Somaliland’s oldest party, UCID (Justice and Welfare Party). A diaspora returnee from Finland, he has been influential in Somaliland politics since 2001. Interestingly, Warabe has proposed the possibility of establishing a co-federation between Hargeisa and Mogadishu as a “two-states, two-capitals” solution to overcome Somaliland’s lack of international recognition and Somalia’s crisis of statehood. He has chosen to run for presidency with Mohamed Musa Abyan who hails from the Jama Siyad sub-clan of Dhulbahante in eastern Sool region, a territory that Somaliland has disputed with Puntland.

Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi “Irro”

The second opposing candidate contesting the presidency is Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi “Irro”. Chairman and main founder of Waddani party, he was officially nominated as the party’s presidential candidate in March 2017. Speaker of the Somaliland Parliament until August, he also spent time in diaspora in Finland and later served as a deputy to Warabe in UCID before the two fell out with each other. Abdirahman Irro’s vice presidential running mate is Ambassador Mohamed Haji Ali Abdi.

Musa Behi

Although Musa Behi is endorsed by his party that currently controls the presidency, he has remained largely in the shadow of much more popular incumbent president “Silanyo”. This is at least in part due to controversies surrounding his role in the clan conflict of 1994. Moreover, both challengers, Faisal Ali Warabe and Abdirahman Irro, have sufficient support in political institutions, in their respective clan-based constituencies (greater Garhajis and Idagale sub-clan), and among influential members of the diaspora, to effectively contest the presidency. While the presidential race is likely to be close because all three candidates command significant support, gaining a majority in the 82-seat parliament is also at stake in the highly contested election between the three official parties. Capturing majority vote necessarily requires successful engagement with Somaliland’s large youth population.

The representation of minority groups

Finally, elections present an opportunity to allow better incorporation of representatives of minority groups in Somaliland politics. Interests of minority clans in the margins of Somaliland should be visibly represented in political institutions in order to create a sense of ownership of state among these groups. This sense of ownership would, in turn, promote the sense of belonging and national unity, and allow the strengthening of Somaliland’s territorial claims particularly in the eastern territories.

Photo by Tobin Jones / Public domain

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Aleksi Ylönen

Research Fellow at CEI-IUL. Current work: FCT funded postdoctoral research project, “The ‘Domino Effect’ of Secessions in the Horn of Africa: Exploring Secessionism in Post-Partition Ethiopia and Sudan”.

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