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Somalia’s elections: A small, stumbling step on the road to democracy 0

Somalia’s (s)election may have become a site for competing elites rather than competing visions. But the importance of the imperfect process should not be underestimated. If all goes according to (the latest) plan, Somalia will hold parliamentary elections on 23 October, with the appointment of the president set for 30 November.

Whichever way it goes, this process will mark another turning point in the country’s long and troubled transition. If the election is deemed to be a failure, aspects of Somalia’s fragile progress may be at risk. If the selection is seen to go smoothly, the next question will be of whether the country can preserve its nascent institutions over the coming years and continue on the rocky road towards long-term stability, democratisation and development.

After years of being synonymous with state failure, famine, piracy and al-Shabaab, these elections provides a rare opportunity for Somalia to send a message of hope – though several concerns remain.

Reasons to be optimistic

The upcoming elections will not be a one-person-one-vote affair. But unlike 2012’s (s)election in which MPs were selected by just 135 clan elders, this time around the (s)electorate will be made up of 14,025 delegates.

These individuals will make up electoral colleges of 51 people each, which will cast secret ballots to select the Lower House’s 275 parliamentarians. One third of these seats will be contested only by women, and the distribution of the seats will reflect Somalia’s pre-existing 4.5 formula that divides power between clans.

A new Upper House will also see 54 senators elected, who will be nominated by regional leaders and approved by their respective parliaments. Members of both houses of parliament will then select the next president at the end of November.

Settling on this convoluted process was the culmination of months of fierce political negotiations and backdoor dealings. There had been some hope that this time around, there would be one-person-one-vote elections. But while the final process falls far short of this, those in diplomat circles that midwifed the model refer to it as representing “enhanced legitimacy”. That’s to say it is an improvement on the last time, but not universal suffrage just yet.

Indeed, the 2016 process can be seen as a quantum leap for a country that barely has functioning institutions, has weak electoral infrastructure, and has long lacked a culture of civic engagement or political participation. While still highly limited, the process is a significant advancement on 2012. Moreover, with the implementation of a federal system underway, candidates are having to campaign from their respective constituencies, rather than just from the capital Mogadishu.

Continue reading on African Arguments

By Abdihakim Ainte

Credit picture: AU United Nations/Tobbi Jones (

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