Somalia: Major win for Puntland opposition as Deni makes "surprise" U-turn on elections
GAROWE, Somalia - After months of looming electoral dispute, Puntland state heads to an inclusive election, following President Said Abdullahi Deni's latest declaration, which could effectively end the standoff that had put stakeholders at loggerheads.
On Wednesday night, Deni, who had been accused of plotting a term extension, backed down on some of the hard stances, tactically yielding to pressure from the opposition and traditional elders, which had vowed to press on with reforms, besides holding timely elections, officials said.
In his concession, Deni agreed to have the 66 legislators to Puntland elected by traditional elders, a plan which he had initially opposed, reports indicate. The outgoing leader openly called for disputed universal suffrage polls contrary to provisions of the current constitution.
Subjecting elections of MPs to a traditional approach where elders made decisions effectively means presidential elections will be determined by the same lawmakers, a model which he had rejected. The leader, however, did not give an exact date for the elections of lawmakers.
Constitutionally, Puntland's presidential elections are due on January 8th, 2024, when the term for the current president expires. The latest concession ideally means lawmakers will elect the next president of Somalia's oldest and most stable state on the 8th Jan. 2024.
Before the pronouncement, the state was embroiled in electoral tussles, with opposition political formations rejecting universal suffrage polls, arguing that the elections voter registration exercise had been manipulated in favour of the incumbent. Underage voters had been registered for the exercise, they claimed.
In parliament, Deni has robustly engaged current lawmakers to "tamper" with election laws, leading to undertones for a possible term extension. However, a spirited opposition rejected the strategic moves by the ruling party, insisting that elders should still play a prominent role in picking the next generation of leaders.
So severe was the dispute the security teams allied to the two factions had started arming themselves for possible confrontations, subsequently, creating panic over an impending conflict, which would have changed the course and history of the state.
Even with this, initial opposition and government clashes left several protesters dead in Garowe, the regional administrative capital of Puntland, and Bosaso, the main commercial capital of the state, where the Puntland Marine Police Force [PMPF] is trained.
The UAE-trained soldiers had also been recalled to their camp for a possible charm offensive against opposition supporters, triggering a sharp warning from international partners, who called for "immediate order and dialogue" to avert the matter from "possible escalation".
The charged opposition had threatened to go ahead with parallel elections, even after the Puntland Electoral Commission [PEC] settled February as the most ideal month for universal suffrage elections. The opposition had also issued a circular for indirect polls.
Mohamed Abdirahman, one of the key opposition candidates, had lashed at Deni, asking him to pave the way for transparent leadership in the state. The firebrand politician asked the youth to actively participate in politics and urged them to work together "to rescue Puntland from the current state of uncertainty".
While calling for "inclusive elections" in Puntland, the opposition defiantly refused to engage in dialogue despite Deni picking a seven-member committee from his team to engage in dialogue. The outgoing leader had insisted that "I'll not give an ear on the model of elections".
Last year, Deni's KAAH party scooped most local council seats, prompting complaints from the opposition which alleged massive "rigging and opaqueness" in the exercise. As a result, three councils including Garowe had their elections postponed to look for a "middle ground".
The decision by Deni to make a complete U-turn could significantly impact the upcoming elections in which he's facing severe opposition. Most likely, the opposition could welcome the move, and perhaps, the state could go for earlier undisputed elections, analysts say.