By: Mohamed Abdiqafar Haji Hussein
On May 25, 2023, Puntland State held a historic election. Puntlanders in 30 districts lined up in the election lane even before the election started. It has been 50 years since Puntlanders last voted in an election based on one person, one vote. The Puntland constitution called for a transition from the old system, where traditional elders selected council candidates, to an election based on one person, one vote. It took more than 24 years for this election, during which constituents could vote for a party whose list of candidates they believed deserved to represent them, to come to fruition.
This demonstrated how the people of Puntland had grown tired of the old system, which they deemed unfair. Under that system, many qualified youth leaders were not chosen simply because their subclan had held the position the last time. Those selected by the elders might not even be qualified for the job, resulting in constituents not getting the outcomes they expected. Furthermore, since the constituents did not elect these representatives, they couldn’t hold them accountable for their performance.
The Puntland people knew that their living conditions would improve if they could elect individuals they deemed qualified to lead them. The long lines, with people waiting for more than three hours in the heat, showcased Puntlanders’ commitment to achieving this goal that they had been eagerly awaiting, and they deserve congratulations.
However, this milestone would have been even better if all 33 districts originally scheduled for voting had participated in this historic election. All Puntlanders, from Bossasso to Kalkayo, would have celebrated today. The international community, who had come to Garowe, would have been able to observe and document the election live. The president of Puntland, Said Abdulahi Deni, would have welcomed representatives of the international community to Villa Garowe, where they could have monitored the election process.
Unfortunately, all of this was prevented due to disagreements among politicians, who prioritized their personal interests over those of the Puntland people. The issue between these politicians centered on the election process, with President Deni feeling that they were impeding progress and attempting to revert to the old system for presidential elections.
President Deni decided to proceed when seven out of the nine parties agreed with his plan. The other two parties and the opposition group believed that President Deni was rushing the process to complete the local election before the parliamentary session in June. They suspected he would later request an extension to finish the process.
These issues could have been resolved through negotiation and compromise for the sake of the Puntland people. Both the Somali people and the international community called for the parties to come to the negotiating table, but both sides ignored these calls. Matters escalated and became personal, with each group devising plans to defeat the other, forgetting what was truly important to the people of Puntland—an election taking place in all 33 districts as originally scheduled.
The opposition’s plan was to ensure that no election in which they weren’t included would occur in Garowe, the capital. They believed that if President Deni recognized their power in Garowe, he would be compelled to negotiate.
On the other hand, it was said that President Deni had his own plan as well. The president had preplanned that if the opposition refused to go along with his plan, he would ensure that the people of the Nugal region turned against those individuals, to the point of viewing them as outcasts. This is why it was mentioned that the president not only prevented the election from taking place in Garowe, where those individuals were located, but also decided to halt the process in the two other districts from which those individuals hailed, in order to increase the pressure on them.
Both groups considered themselves winners because the government was able to show all the people in the three districts that the reason the election didn’t occur was because of those individuals who lived among them. The message was clear: If they wanted an election, the people should stop those individuals.
Meanwhile, the opposition group felt victorious for preventing an election in which they were not included from taking place in the capital, Garowe.
All these issues could have been resolved through negotiation if both parties had been sincere about the election process. There is no issue that cannot be solved when there is something more significant than individual interests at stake. Such a negotiation would have required a willingness to compromise for the greater good of the people.
Meanwhile, the people of Garowe are in shock and cannot comprehend what is happening. They wonder why President Deni left the city on the most important day of the election and why the government did not arrest the individuals accused of causing the disruption. Others question why the government stopped the election in the other two districts if those opposing the president were only in Garowe. Even a woman in the protest group remarked that she cannot understand why the Minister of Interior, whose residence is in Garowe, was able to vote in Bossasso if it wasn’t preplanned for government staff to vacate the city on Election Day.
May 25, 2023, will be recorded in the history of Puntland as a historic yet sorrowful day, a day on which individual politicians prioritized their personal interests over those of Puntland.
Democracy is not about one person forcing others to accept their way or hit the road. It entails coming together with different ideas on the table and reaching an agreement in which those at the table don’t get everything they want, but make compromises for the sake of the people they represent.
To move forward, the people of Puntland cannot afford another day of leaders who only understand winning when they defeat their opponents. It is time for both groups to realize that a victory of one group over another is not better than a win for all of Puntland’s people. The only way Puntland can transition from the old system, which all stakeholders agreed upon, is to develop a system in which all stakeholders agree on the process.
President Deni is the leader the people elected, and he should not view people with different ideas as enemies he wants to defeat. Instead, he should engage in dialogue, seek compromise, and ultimately strive for a victory that benefits all the people who elected him.
By: Mohamed Abdiqafar Haji Hussein
Leave a Reply