Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Why Somalia needs to abolish the secret ballot system at the legislative level

By Mohamed Mohamed

Secret ballot voting system is designed to protect voters from intimidation and harassment while casting their votes. It is also meant to curb corruption in terms of vote buying in elections. It works best in public elections where it is important that voters vote without fear of any repercussions. It might also be useful in small groups like corporate boards. In this case, voters can vote for their instincts without confronting with their powerful superiors who they deem to be unfit. In different scenarios, the system is effective and achieves its intended use of shielding voters from coercion, but its inefficiency in the legislative level continues to foster corruption and encourage vote buying in bigger scale.

Members of Somalia’s new parliament

The question that needs to be asked is, what use does the secret ballot system has in a parliament setting, specifically, a parliament like the one we have in Somalia -corrupted and careless about the public cause? It is widely known that the members of the Somali Parliament have massively benefited from the secret ballot system and will persistently fight for its continuation. After all, it’s no secret that every one of them spent thousands of dollars if not hundreds to get elected and now it is time to cash their investment.

As we have seen in previous elections, the members of the parliament promise to vote for every candidate who approaches them and collect voting fees from all. Sometimes bidding candidates against each other to jack up the price. But when the election day comes, they usually vote for the candidate with the highest bid or the one who is corrupt enough to pull off a verification mechanism to confirm the members did indeed vote as they promised. There were speculations during 2012 election that the two Sheriffs conspired to manufacture ballot papers identical to the official ones which Sharif Sh. Ahmed was the pre-elected candidate. The members of the parliament were required to cast their vote using the pre-selected one and bring back the original ballot blank as a proof. However, with the help of the Qatari dollars, Hasan Sheikh Mohamud outmaneuvered the Sheriffs and was able to garner more votes than his opponents. Regardless of this particular accusation, it is obvious that the current voting system is poorly designed and susceptible to endless corruption schemes.

The alternative is making the voting open ballot. This is not to suggest that open ballot system will eliminate corruption in its entirety, but it will definitely reduce it substantially. It will also bring about accountability and expose who is backing whom. The parliament members have the responsibility to serve the public using their mandated votes but it is not their private right to choose who they please behind closed doors. If they are embarrassed to stand behind their candidate in public and voice their support, they should be more embarrassed to vote against what they have promised the people in exchange for pocket money. The people have the right to know whether their representatives actually represent their values or are for themselves.  If open ballot system is implemented, the parliament members will lose the guard of anonymity to say one thing in public, and do another in private. The people will know if they fulfill their promises to bring change or if they are being bought and continue the cycle. Best of all, we will know who bought them. Each member will have a track record that he or she cannot deny. They will either represent their constituents as they oath to do or follow the money, in which case the it will be known to the public.

The MPs have been notorious for this double life of preaching one thing but practicing another since the inception of the House of the People in late 1950s. It was the second parliament of 1965 who in secret ballot rejected Abdirazack Haji Hussein’s important proposal to create central civil, health, and criminal procedure codes despite having SYL majority parliament. The prime minister resigned consequently which angered the president. Shortly before the president declined the prime minister’s resignation, he expressed his disappointment and frustration with the members in his diary according to Prof Abdi I. Samatar’s new book – Africa’s First Democrats, the president said,

“I am sick and tired of fighting with those irresponsible and corrupt so-called representatives of the people who systematically confuse their narrow-minded interests and their dislikes of the interest of the country and the people…It’s cowardly not to know how to take on with a high head one’s responsibilities….,” Learning from the past, to alter the current process for a better outcome in the future is what is needed of our representatives at this critical moment of Somalia’s political environment. But as long as our parliament members continue to prioritize their bottom-line in a time of urgent need to stop this prolonged bloodshed and chaos, the future looks bleak.

Getting rid of secret ballot might not be the silver bullet to a political transparency, but there is no doubt it will be a step forward for accountability and transparency.

Mohamed Mohamed

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