Government of the people, by the people and for the people” (Lincoln, 1863). The word democracy comes from the Greek words “demos,” meaning people, and “kratos” meaning power; so, democracy is the will and the power of the people. If you rule them against their will, you’re taking away their fundamental rights and self-governing practices. Democracy allows citizens to choose representatives and replace them at their choice. Why this democracy? It helps create a secure, stable, and prosperous nation. It gives freedom and safeguards the dignity and rights of the people.
My previous article titled “A Dream come True” articulated the democratization process of Puntland and the progress made. Since then, were there any substantial steps made? This article will explain why the process stalled, who is responsible and why it stagnated.
President Deni appointed TPEC members in August 2019. In a speech, Mr. Deni offered full support to ensure the smooth implementation of the process. He forcefully criticized the indirect election system and reaffirmed the need to move Puntland beyond clan-based politics. Was he really so sincere? This is not the first time Puntland has tried to implement the democratization process; two previous administrations failed to hold IPIV elections due to conflict of interest and lack of commitment.
President Farole tried but made fatal political mistakes after politicizing the process. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” His successor, President Gas, got the opportunity to correct the mistakes but failed too.
The hopes were high! Many believed the current administration would at least hold council elections chiefly for two reasons: The early start of the process and the lessons learnt from the previous attempts.
TPEC began its work immediately, holding its first meeting on 25 August 2019 and electing its chairman, deputy, and committee speaker. They began working diligently. They finalized essential laws, technical procedures, and prerequisite conditions for future associations. They thoroughly checked the registration process, visited significant cities to ascertain organisations that met the requirements, finally issued certificates, and officially inaugurated nine political organisations that passed the vetting process.
With the help of the ministry of interior, they proposed three districts as an early election exercise to test their abilities to conduct one-person-one-vote elections and also learn foreseeable future irregularities. This process was widely hailed as a step forward and attracted local and international support. The commission received funds and technical and moral support from the donor community and international partners.
TPEC has conducted voter registrations in three districts, often working at night. They finally released the list of the three districts’ voters and set a timeline for Puntland’s first universal suffrage polls. TPEC has shown firm commitment, professionalism, and the leadership skills required for successful local elections. Their work inspired the general public, who wanted to move away from clan-based elections to universal suffrage.
People from the different segments, particularly women and youth groups, expressed their support and commitment in a way never seen before. They saw the process as a great opportunity that could usher in an era of genuine representation and accountability. The extent of their support was profoundly unfathomable. Elderly and frail persons, heavily pregnant women, and youth groups registered to cast their ballots and celebrated the success.
On 25 October 2021, Puntland set a record and passed the line, which many of us thought was a point of no return, but, unfortunately, we were proved wrong!
Immediately after the local elections concluded, the commission released the election results of the three districts. The next step required the administration was to organise the swearing-in ceremony of the elected councillors and facilitate them to select their mayors among themselves. But, Sadly, the government failed to administer the process on time. The first swearing-in and mayoral post-election took place in April 2022 and the second in September 2022, almost one year after the election date.
KAAH, the association of the government, was defeated in all three districts. This colossal defeat humiliated and disappointed the President and his political clique. They irresponsibly misused public meagre resources and lavishly funded their organization. They used government institutions and human resources. They did everything possible to win the election. The defeat instigated internal disagreement, disarray, and entanglement among ruling elites. No one has taken responsibility, but each started to blame the other for the setback.
The President doubted his close circle allegiances and now covertly questioned his old guard loyalties. First time, he perceived a challenge and sensed serious future rivalry was burgeoning. He will soon disgracefully divorce once staunch allies and now will become his adversaries. Many innocent loyalists were given the red card and unexpectedly fired because of guilt by association Even monkeys fall from trees!
A few weeks later, after the conclusion of the elections, the President fired his police chief, accusing him of incompetence and clumsiness. But, all the political stakeholders, the observers, and the general public suggested otherwise and acknowledged his boldness and professionalism.
In January 2022, both the chairman and the deputy chairman of TPEC resigned from their leadership positions and the committee membership, citing existential challenges and disagreements with the government regarding elections management and implementation.
Instead of proclaiming the process, expediting it, and restoring people’s hope, Deni Capitulated himself to Villa Somalia race, which he later lost to Hassan Sh Mohamud. Regrettably, his intention to run gave rise to more disappointment, disdain, and despondency.
It’s a dead end! The process has lost both credibility and optimism among the wider public and the political elites. There is a general belief that President Deni intends to extend his mandate to stay in power.
Undoubtedly, the people are sick and tired of the clan-based political system. However, the absence of political inclusivity, lack of active participation, and closing political space cannot be translated to a healthy democracy but would further impede creativity, hinder social cohesion and create a culture of mediocrity.
What are the Challenges?
Fundamental principles of any democratic transition are not only missing, but it’s not even in the books of the President. For him, it’s a matter of winning or losing everything. His plans are impractical, inappropriate, and unattainable. The following are a few challenges:
· Puntland constitution is still provisional as a public referendum was not held
· The constitutional court to interpret the election laws and resolve the disputes, arguably essential for this process, was not formed. Not only the constitutional court is absent but also the higher court. Even the President himself suggested that the judicial system of Puntland needs overhaul, reform, and restructure, which he badly failed to do.
· Vast swathes of Puntland districts are not under the control of the administration. Almost all districts of Sool region and some districts in East Sanaag are under the control of Somaliland. Muse Bihi has recently visited Tukaraq, less than 40 miles from Garowe City.
· The general population census was not yet conducted and is not even in the process.
· The demarcation and delineation of districts crucial for election ballot posts are not made. Puntland was built with five regions and the district of Buhoodle; now, the five areas have become nine, and the districts are 50.
· Civilians are heavily armed, and every clan has weapons, including small arms, battle wagons, and other military hardware. Like Somaliland, Puntland has not achieved disarming civilians. Any clan with a grievance can mobilize their clansmen and fight each other or against the government security forces who are not well-trained and under-equipped.
· There is no voter registration in the remaining districts. In the three districts, the voter registration was done on ad hoc bases which most of the voters have not participated in, either for political reasons or lack of awareness.
What are the Recommendations?
In order to restore public trust and credibility of the election process, the President should come forward and declare the intention not to extend his term. He should confirm that the traditional 8 January elections will take place. Nobody would have ever liked to see this happen again, but the government appears to have found itself inadvertently driving down a cul-de-sac and miserably failed to take the state out of the mess and ensure fair, free, and democratic elections. No one would ever believe President Deni 1P1V election gimmicks as he walked away when everyone was rallying behind, before he chose the federal seat. Deni is incompetent and devoid of leadership capacity. He lacks vision, values and leading Puntland into unchartered territory. Therefore;
· Puntland constitution needs amendments and overhauls restructuring. Government should appoint independent constitutional experts to advise possible amendments. However, before ratifying the constitution and organizing a public referendum, the constitution should mandate that people elect their President directly.
· The constitutional court, vital for the interpretation and election laws, should be formed with political consensus if the government is trusted. The consensus will help people know if this government is keen on democratization.
· A general population census should be conducted. Without a proper population census, TPEC and other political stakeholders cannot precisely identify the number of potential voters. Additionally, the population census is a statistical snapshot to determine how many citizens live in a specific area and would help future local councillors to plan and allocate funds for town plans and public service.
· Government should devise plans to demarcate the districts, which is very important for election polling sites. Demarcation and delamination of the districts would help the Interim Election Commission to know about the voters’ distribution and allocation of seats in each district.
· The government should disarm the civilians; at least, the government should collect heavy weaponry using a mix of consultation and coercion methods. Civilian disarmament is a prerequisite for any free and fair elections.
· Genuine voter registration should be conducted in all remaining districts. Voter registration would help to identify those who registered to vote and those who have not registered and why. Partial and ad hoc voter registration can trigger conflict among the communities and stall the process. Before starting voter registration, a massive awareness campaign and political outreach must be conducted.
· Political parties shouldn’t be restricted to three. There should be a threshold to measure to form an association. If met the required threshold, it should be allowed to function. Also, Independent candidates should be allowed to run for any political office without being conditioned to register for any particular political party.
As expressed, most Puntlanders want to see that their beloved state is moving forward. Also, there is no perfect elections and democratic process, but public participation and ownership are highly required to ensure that the process is inclusive and locally owned. The historic three district elections, through the OPOV system, have taught us public readiness, but only if the government and the stakeholders benefit and expedite the process. The government and the other stakeholders should agree on a practical timeline, perhaps, after the election of the new President in January 2024, to come up with alternative solutions and how these recommendations can be implemented.
BA, MPA and MA (IR)