Making sense of the Upper House election dynamics.

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Opinion: Elections for Somalia’s 54-member Upper House have concluded after dragging for more than three months. Besides several bizarre revelations documented within this period, the elections in the five federal member states and Mogadishu offered a sneak peek of how the Lower House elections risk potential irregularities and federal member states micro-managing or predetermining the outcome.

Elections for the second Upper House of the bicameral federal parliament in the eleventh parliament kicked off on July 29 in Jubaland. Galmudug concluded them on November 13.

As per the electoral arrangement, leaders of the Federal Member States (FMS) and Somaliland political leaders (Abdi Hashi and Mahdi Guled) would nominate the contestants for every 54 seats. In 2016, the Upper House election was an open contest with most politicians interested in contesting included in the list. However, it was entirely a different case this time, with FMS leaders locking out their political nemesis and fielding proxy candidates in most scenarios to engineer a favorable outcome for themselves and their political camps.

Facts and figures

• Out of the 54 members, 40 Senators are either newly elected members or previously served as Lower House MPs in the tenth parliament.

• 14 new members were elected, with Puntland topping the list since it replaced 9 out of the 11 senators elected in the state in the 2016 elections.

• In terms of female representation, only 14 of the 54 seats went to women falling short of the required 30%.  This amounts to around 26%.

• A total of 25 seats were uncontested, with "placeholder" candidates usually withdrawing from the race before the actual vote. South West was the only FMS with all of its seats contested, followed by Hirshabelle.

• All seats in Galmudug were uncontested, giving the preferred candidates an easy pass. Potential candidates were either excluded from the list or their seats transferred to the Lower House, perhaps to bar them from contesting for the Upper House seats.

• By any standards, the only FMS that could be said to have held the election on the agreed terms was Hirshabelle. All politicians interested in contesting were included in the list, the space was quite open, and most seats were openly contested. Alleged influence of Hirshabelle leaders and millions of dollars exchanging hands notwithstanding.

• There were no robust reports of disputes on the outcome of the elections. Only one seat in Hirshabelle was halted after some of the MPs turned rogue and created a commotion. The contest was stopped and postponed to a later date. There were also a few other contenders who held pressers and registered discontent on alleged interference from Hirshabelle leaders. Not forgetting one of the contenders from Jubaland, who after he was defeated claimed in a press conference, he held in Mogadishu that he was rigged out.

Political Affiliations of the Senators

Although it is tough and tricky to ascertain the political affiliations of the elected senators, some of them already have apparent political affiliations either through political camps they openly associate with or through perceived financial support many believe they had received from specific political groups and presidential candidates. Whether they will vote for the preferred candidates of these political groups, of course, remains a big question.

Preliminary mapping and conceivable affiliations indicate Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, Hassan Ali Khaire, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Said Deni, and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed commanding and counting on the majority of the Senators.

It is by the nature of the opportunistic Somali political elite to pledge behind-the-scenes support for multiple candidates. Still, it is an open fact that the candidates mentioned above stand to gain most of the votes since they have already positioned themselves as what analysts would term “Class A” candidates.

Who is contesting for the Upper House leadership?

The position of the Speaker was a reserve for the Dir clan in the 2016 elections, and it seems nothing would change this time. In particular, politicians from the Isaaq clan are posed to contest for this influential seat.

There are no official declarations and interest for the Speaker position, but campaigns by at least three candidates have been ongoing for the past few weeks, with these candidates and their political camps canvassing and soliciting support from the senators.

Abdi Hashi, the Speaker of the first Upper House, is in the race again and will reportedly defend his seat. Hashi stands a high chance as he is regarded by many as a decisive leader and an elder. He has no direct affiliation with any presidential candidate (many claims he is a member of their group). Still, the majority of the opposition groups will most likely throw their weight behind him. He will also bank on the direct support of Jubaland and Puntland leaders who might lobby their senators to support him.

Abdi Hashi will face fierce competition from Salah Jama, a newly elected senator and the current Minister for Constitutional Affairs. Salah is openly pro Farmajo but has friends across the political divide. He is outspoken and profoundly understands the political dynamics of the country owing to his experience working with the 2016 election commission, the New Deal, among others. He is set to receive most of the votes from Galmudug and South West. He will also garner a considerable number of votes from Somaliland’s 11 votes.

Current Information Minister Osman Dubbe has expressed interest in this position as well. He is banking on the probability of Abdi Hashi not contesting and poses himself as a compromise candidate for some of the presidential candidates who don't have much interest in Abdi Hashi and Salah, and would rather prefer testing the waters. Dubbe is a newcomer in the federal politics but has already reserved a spot for himself through his passion, controversies, and eloquence. Dubbe has no clear political affiliations and a political camp to count on. Nonetheless, he will undoubtedly be a vocal member of the 11th parliament.

The position of the 1st Deputy Speaker is also an interesting one. This position was occupied by Senator Abshir Bukhari who is not a member anymore. In 2016, Abshir was elected in a tight race receiving 30 votes against his competitor Senator Abdi Dhuhulow “Dhagdheer” who garnered 22 votes.

Senators jostling for the 1st Deputy Speaker this time round are notably Abdihakim Malin and Abdullahi Fartaag.

Abdihakim is probably the candidate of Galmudug. He will count on the total support of senators allied to Farmajo from South West and Somaliland. He will also be in a position to get some votes from Hirshabelle.

Abdullahi Fartaag will have the blessings of Puntland and Jubaland leaders hence emerges with a good start from the onset. Puntland senators will offer him support in the likely event Said Deni’s candidacy materializes. He is also counting on some bonus votes from UPD party members and opposition-aligned senators.

Is the election of the Speaker Upper House necessary now?

Since the Upper House elections have been concluded, and the Lower House elections will seemingly drag for some time, there is a proposition that the elections of Speaker of the Upper House be conducted before the Lower House. Electing the Speaker and his deputies might expedite the electoral process and give a hypothetical picture of who might succeed Farmajo.

However, the outcome of the Speaker might also disappoint some of the key political stakeholders who could then orchestrate and execute moves to undermine the already frail process. For that matter, holding the election of the Speakers of the two houses at the same time sounds like a safe bet and a pragmatic option.


AUTHOR: Abdimalik Abdullahi is a freelance journalist, researcher, and analyst. He writes and comments on current political developments, governance issues, democratization, and elections of Somalia and the region. He tweets at @Abdimaleik.

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