EDITORIAL: Senate elections should be yardstick to correct electoral errors in Somalia

Senators belonging to the Upper House cast their votes to determine the Speaker of the Upper House, as well as the two Deputy Speakers, during an election in Mogadishu, Somalia, on January 22, 2017. © AMISOM Photo

EDITORIAL | Somali Prime Minister Hussein Roble has been going around encouraging and promising a free, transparent, and fair election this time. And from the look of things, he enjoys huge support with many Somalis believing he could deliver on that promise.

Yet the already conducted elections for senators have shown we must work a lot more to achieve that dream. First, there were delays in starting elections for the Upper House. And when they did start, there were notable problems.

In Jubbaland, President Ahmed Madobe chose to conduct elections for four seats. SouthWest chose five seats. Both states are given eight seats each in the Upper House, which means they will have to conduct another round of nominations and elections. But that is half the problem.

The criteria used to gauge who becomes Senate contender has been mired with the need for clan balancing act as well as calls for women slots. Could the state presidents balance that and stick within the law? Preliminary findings show that the federal chiefs have largely used their political leanings. And apart from the nominations fiasco, the problem now means the timelines for elections will be affected again as the contests in the states are not yet finished.

Somalis must not throw out the baby with its bathwater, however. The start of elections alone was an important step, considering that just a few months ago, Somalia looked like it was on the brink of civil war. It means that we must correct these mistakes going into the next phases of elections.

Political interests and clan influence as well as money may continue to play a role in the polls. But officials must strive to level the playing field. We must make it clear why certain candidates have been dropped or others have chosen.

Failure to do that signals opaqueness and could fuel expression of rigging even where there is none. Learning from the mistakes can help prevent continuity of the same errors in other parts of the country, where the Senate polls are not yet conducted. We are not saying Somalia’s election is perfect. But officials can do better to stick to the ethical side of the law.

Elections in Somalia are seen as the best tool for legitimizing authority. That means that every level of elections, from the senate to the Lower House to the Presidency will be watched closely. It may be too early to cast aspersions on the organizers, but it is never too late to correct errors committed and which could tarnish any meaningful outcomes.

We support an election where contenders freely enter the contest and the rules are fair for everyone. Somalia’s fragility means it cannot afford to use state resources, power, and other means to frustrate a free and fair contest. And we hope PM Roble knows the value of this as the country enters the two-month-long electoral period.

The burden, credit, or any weakness of this election rests with him and the electoral committees. They can choose to be heroes or just another group cheerleading theft of the vote.


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