In 1964, Somalia held a first national election as an independent state, and in 1969, a second election that was largely free and fair was held and in between the total of political parties increased from 21 to 64. About 1,000 candidates contested the 123 seats available in the 1969 elections. Most of the small parties soon joined the main Somali Youth League (SYL) effectively making the country a one-party state. A bigger electoral shift was experienced after the military coup in 1969. This opened up the doors for 21 years of dictatorship followed by decades-long civil war that continue to be felt today.
On the other hand, the complexity of clan identity politics in Somalia has continued to be a national problem yet very hard to be a halted by the Somalis. The contemporary power-sharing system consented to in 2000 at the Arta Peace Conference in Djibouti as a peace building measure has done little to heal the clan identity problem. The majority four clans and united minority groups were agreed on a new power-sharing system which is also clan- based; 4.5 formula, the four main clans get an equal share (1) in the government, at the same time other combined small clans were given 0.5 stake. This has been the basis of political power sharing for the successive regimes. Gladly, the country is achieving key milestones in its effort to reconstitute the electoral process of the country. For the first time in 50 years, Somalia has a National Independent Electoral Commission that was constituted on 3rd December2017.
There is still a lot to be done before realizing one-person one-vote elections in the country. In the last election of 2016/17, for example, only 14,000 delegates voted in parliamentary elections held in five elections centers (Garowe, Kismayu, Baidoa, Jowhar and Adado). Each parliamentary seat was elected by 51 delegates. 275 seats were distributed according to clan-based formula, a 4.5 quota with the four main clans allocated 61 seats each (Hawiye, Darood, Dir and Digil Mirifle) and the remaining minority clans obtaining 31 seats. However, this is a major improvement from the 2012 elections that saw only 135 elders tasked with electing 275 members of parliament.
This indicates that, even though modest, the last election in 2016/17 had more significant numbers in terms of electorates than in the previous election. Another important observation is the peaceful transfer of presidential power on 8 February 2017. This was seen as a major milestone in Somalia’s political process and maturity of the political process. The current efforts by the government to prepare for one-man, one-vote polls by 2020/21 in the coming general election continues to be a welcome call by many stakeholders.
To this end, the federal government has introduced a draft electoral system legislation to the parliament where the preferred electoral model is the proportional representation model among other key electoral issues. The idea of introducing proportional representation in Somalia is a positive step towards addressing the grievances of marginalization in politics. Proportional Representation has been used as a viable and useful model for confronting extremely divided societies. It seeks to ensure that each community or person obtains their stake through the democratic system rather than clanism. Definitely, the selection of this model will remedy the weaknesses created by the clan-based 4.5 formula and usher in a more equitable are representative political process.
A functional Proportional Representation multiparty system will make it possible for even the minority groups to have representation in parliament and in some cases be part of the governing coalition. It will thus encourage every citizen to be active in the political process as every vote has a chance to affect the politics of the country. Having said this, even a PR model can take various forms and it is up to the House of the People to define the details that will be applied to the country and this will become clear in the coming months as the draft legislation advances through the legislative process.
In concluding my argument, I should emphasize that the relevant legal framework for elections and the Constitutional referendum must be concluded in the timeframe agreed among key stakeholders as early as possible. Otherwise, there would be high uncertainty for “one person one vote” elections to be held in the country as planned by 2020/21. In Somalia, young people, women and minority groups had traditionally been marginalized in the political process. While the general prevailing circumstances unique to this group of electorates including lack of opportunities, poor mobilization of resources, absence of understanding of the political process and lack of employment opportunities was a dimension of this marginalization, the absence of an inducive electoral model was key. In almost 48 years, the country was governed by a non-party political system. There is now a new hope for the country to hold universal election in 2020/21 and young people, women and minority groups will have a chance to exercise their constitutional rights and participate in political activities.