President Said Abdulai Deni, in a speech to army officers in a camp near Garowe on October 29, 2024, revealed an ominous path for the country when he basically declared war on his opposition. President Deni knows that the election he is trying to hold on February 25, 48 days after his term will have expired, is not agreed with by all the other stakeholders. The opposition group has called for the president to come to the table for talks to agree on the type of the election that can take place in Puntland ever since it seemed that the president could not guarantee holding an election based on one person, one vote principles on the original planned date of January 8, 2024.
While the president insisted just a few days ago that he would hold the election on time, claiming that the Puntland Election Commission had assured him that they could hold the election on time, the Commission has now issued a statement declaring postponement of the election for 48 days. President Deni knows that this postponement will not be accepted by the opposition group, and indeed, they have already stated that if the president does not come to the table to negotiate before November 1, they will start a parallel process for the forthcoming election based on past practices, which all candidates have agreed as process in the last 24 years.
Instead of President Deni deciding to put forth the interests of Puntland, which is for a peaceful and fair election to be held, where all the presidential candidates are in agreement with the process, and since the president could not hold an election under the one person, one vote principle on January 8, 2024, President Deni has convinced himself that he is on the right path and urged the officers he was addressing to protect Puntland from within. In the last few days, the president has also reshuffled the army generals to strengthen his command.
There is no doubt that the opposition group will prepare to counter President Deni’s dictatorial tendencies. The average Puntlanders can predict that the war that President Deni sees as a solution is about to take place in Garowe. There are reports that families near Villa Garowe are already preparing to move out of the area. International communities have instructed their representatives to work from home, and those who were scheduled to return to Puntland have put their plans on hold.
At the end of his speech, President Deni told the army officers that if they do not protect Puntland from those who do not want to follow the rules and laws of Puntland, Puntland would be destroyed. This shows that the president sees the only solution as either his officers winning over the opposition or this being the end of Puntland’s existence.
President Deni’s premise that either Puntland will hold an election or it will not exist does not add up though, and President Deni has misinformed the officers. He told them that when he was elected in a system with 66 parliamentarians selected by traditional elders, that that was the law of the state. However, he now says that Puntland is in a different stage with a permanent Puntland Election Commission and local parties willing to participate in the upcoming election, and there is no return to the old ways.
Today, it is like the days when Puntland was created and Puntland is at a crossroads, President Deni added. But the president forgot to tell the officers much more about the reality on the ground. He did not tell the officers that in all the other Puntland elections, all the presidential candidates were in agreement with the election process, which used to be prescribed in the form of an annex, an agreement outside the constitution to hold an election, and that whoever wins the election would have a five-year mandate.
Every Puntland president, when they realized they were not capable of holding an election under the one person, one vote principle at the end of their term, searched for other ways to hold a fair election that all other candidates would agree upon. In theory, anyone can hold an election, the issue in practice is for that election process to be agreed upon by all candidates so that the winner would have a legitimate mandate.
President Deni also did not tell the officers that the Puntland Election Commission, which he claimed Puntland has today, consists of 12 members, 11 of whom were selected by President Deni and his associates, and so cannot be trusted to ensure a fair election. That is why President Deni always insists that every candidate should have confidence in the people, when in reality, he only has confidence in the election system because it is tilted in his favor, and no other candidate has a chance of winning in that system, which they had no input into. He wants to make it seem like other candidates do not have confidence that the people would elect them, which is not the case.
In order for all candidates to participate in the election, there must be a fair system agreed upon. Once that is in place, then Puntlanders would have the choice to decide whom they want to elect as the president for the next 5 years. In addition, President Deni forgot to tell the officers that the election he called a one person, one vote system is actually based on the election of parties, which would then negotiate how they would share the seats won. Up to now, there are local councils that have been elected but not seated because the parties’ selection was not based on the voting.
President Deni has stated that the local councils his party won were given to the other parties to share the wealth. In real democracies, no party share it’s votes with opposition parties. The Minister of Interior said that the selection of the council mayors by the parties should be based on something that can work on the ground, which means that the voting, for which people waited in long lines to do, in many cases for almost a whole day, did not matter anymore.
Basically, President Deni told the officers that it’s their responsibility to protect Puntland from within, the same way some other countries in history have sought to protect their constitution and ended up with a president ruling past their mandated term. However, the president is not aware that those officers do not serve just the president but they serve the country too, and are also in place to protect Puntland from being ruled by a dictator, and many are familiar with the fact that the current election is not fair and not agreed upon.
The only way forward is for President Deni to call all the stakeholders to his office and ask them to come up with an election in which everyone feels they have the same chance as anyone else. Winning over the opposition is a temporary victory by force and will only solidify his image as a dictator, which is why Somalia is in its current condition. Puntlanders would not accept a dictatorship in Puntland, and Puntlanders are much smarter than President Deni thinks.
By : Mohamed Abdulqafar Haji , Hussein