Somaliland Election: An account of a close observer

BY Mohamed Xariirad

October 12, 2005

The people of Somaliland, regardless of the naysayer apprehension that there would be no fair and free election in this internationally isolated infant nation has demonstrated a will of steel rooted on their determination to reclaim their independence from the quagmire in Somalia proper. They put their best foot forward to elect newly minted parliament soon to be sworn in. Now, that it is in place, the whole nation is eagerly expecting it to deliver the promised recognition and prosperity, not withstanding their party colours and tribal affiliation.

The government of Somaliland spearheaded by its cool headed president, Honourable Dahir Rayale Kahin as he promised to his people after he assumed the office pursued this long and tough democratization process with immense vigour. To the amazement of many he did not disappoint and the parliament election of Somaliland has just occurred out there, the world to see it, to complete the democratization circle. Even though it is not perfect, yet this endeavor sets a good example of how an indigenous peace process can set the wheels of democracy moving in the right direction. It helps the young and the elderly to contribute to their country's political direction through the ballot box (sack in this case).

This exercise was not painless. There were many pumps on the road leading to it. However, it was achieved on the visionary leadership of the president, hard work of his cabinet, nonpartisan election commission, support of the opposition party leaders and the never flailing will of the general public. My hat is off to you all, you made it possible! Cool heads have prevailed over the skeptical elements among us at the moment of need; differences were solved on the table rather than in the battle field and all political leaders have shown their maturity at sometime or the other.

Having said that let me express my humble opinion about how the political parties and their leadership faired during the election campaign. Please, be advised that during the campaign electability criteria was not pegged on the candidate's or party's political agenda or plan but on some other issues such as: a) candidate's clan base or lineage b) loyalty to the leader or party c) individual economic power (Khat) d) personality e) education and past performance… etc. To say the least the following were traits of the parties and their leaders during the campaign:

As we are all aware of UDUB is the party in power in Somaliland. The president of the nation is also the leader of the party and it has had a deep rooted mass following among the people in all regions of Somaliland. Despite, its popularity the party did not do well in the election as was expected due to different reasons. To name a few of its short comings: Its campaign managers might have rested heavily on their past glory or they badly underestimated the tenacity, determination and cunningness of the opposition leaders. Additionally, the president did not show the energy required during the campaign in order to generate some momentum for his party. Similarly, the vice president created a faux pas of his own in Borama when he claimed, “it is a sin to get opposition members elected in Sahil and Awdal regions”. This might have cost his party a few seats in both those regions and elsewhere. On the top of all some cabinet ministers did not endear themselves to the electorate and there were alleged mismanagement in the preliminary candidate screening process that annoyed some of the traditionally loyal clans.

Kulmiye was the most active political party in the campaign. Ahmed Siilaanyo made a whirlwind tour in all the eastern, southern and central regions urging the population in those areas to elect his party members to the new assembly. In my view, though Ahmed's appeal might have paid off in some regions, but his right wing deputies and the so called militant media undermined his efforts in some of the regions; their conspiracy theories did not bear any dividends for his party in those regions where the people felt threatened. On the other hand, it is still unknown how many extra seats the party picked up in the capital region. Nevertheless, Ahmed Siilaanyo has shown signs of elder statesmanship by personally avoiding the mudsling, but he never made any efforts to restrain his deputies and his xenophobic mouth pieces at least in public. One can only wonder why a national party would endorse an act of alienation against certain region or group of people. What it appears at the outset is it did not matter as long as he was not personally doing it, but it sounds to be a dereliction of his responsibility to all the Somalilanders.

Faisal Ali Warabe, the UCID party leader toured almost all the regions of Somaliland to present his party's case to the electorate. His party has made successful inroads in previously difficult regions and it emerged as serious contender, but its problems were two pronged. First, many of his candidates were either returning expatriates who were not familiar with the nuts and bolts of Somaliland politics or third string clan nominees who did not have good political weight. Secondly, Faisal Ali during the election appeared to have abandoned his left centre political ideology in favour of far right stand which was characterized by vengeful personal attacks on the president and partisan rhetoric.

Faisal also put his foot in his mouth in number of occasions. For instance, when the hoax ballot papers were caught at Hargeisa Airport, he went on the air immediately and he called for the president's blood (where else would you call for the head of state's blood and you get away with it?! It only happens in Somaliland!), however what he was not aware of was that there were no fake ballot papers to begin with and amazingly enough the accused was one of his own party members. That clearly, exposed his party's lack of coordination. To top it all, on the ballot day his party was so disarrayed to the level, they could not send their representatives to some polling regions.

In conclusion our democratic system has its own limitations, but it is a good start on which we can build on. It needs a strong legislation in areas of land dispute; finance; better election code of conduct; media code of conduct that makes it responsible for what it publishes; charter of rights and freedoms that protects all of us equally regardless of our region of origin and clan affiliation; power sharing laws in the three levels of governance (central, regional and municipal). All these and more are expected from the new assembly!

After the dust settles, the winner of this election is the people of Somaliland. They expressed their desire to be governed by the rule of law through their own elected president and parliament. As was clear in this election people forgive but they never forget and I can pet you their expectation is really very high. May Allah be on the side of the new parliamentarians and bestow on them the wisdom to work for those who sent them to Hargeisa.

Mohamed Xariirad

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