NAIROBI (HAN) February 3, 2016 – Public Diplomacy and Regional Stability Initiatives News. Opinion By: Jaafar Jama In the face of public disapproval, the rise of opposition parties, and recommendations from the National Election Commission and international donors, the Somaliland House of Elders—an unelected legislative body—postponed the presidential and parliamentary elections until April, 2017. Seventy-two of the eighty-two member legislature voted to approve the presidential and House of Representatives terms of extension to one year and ten months. A thirty member committee, including the General Secretary of the House of Elders and a legal government advisor, cited serious internal crises looming over Somaliland as the reason for the extension of the presidency and the House of Representatives length of service. The decision came after the committee consulted with Somaliland opposition parties and the National Election Commission (NEC). The NEC and opposition parties recommended that elections should be held in June of 2016, thereby giving the unpopular current administration a one year extension to prepare and distribute voter registration and citizenship identity cards for all Somaliland citizens. The NEC and the opposition parties did not identify internal instability and natural disasters as obstacles to a 2016 election. The House of Elders, however, identified internal civil war, the refugee crisis with refugees from Yemen, and internal squabbles over power sharing in Somaliland as bases for the extension.
The General Secretary of the House of Elders, Cabdillahi Siciid (Dheere), speaking on behalf of the House of Elders (H.E.), said that elections would not be held in Somaliland until 2017 based on the findings and subsequent vote of the H.E. He cited the constitution of Somaliland, article 42, section three, which stipulates that in time war, internal instability, and/or natural disasters, the ruling administration would remain in office until conditions improves sufficiently to safely hold elections. Until then, the current president and vice president should remain in office as stipulated in section three of article 83 of the constitution.
The internal instability identified by the House of Elders is related to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Somaliland where the Dhulbahanta Tribes men have established an autonomous region in line with the federal government of Somalia. Citizens of the area refuse to obtain citizenship identity cards and in previous elections boycotted voter registration drives. The secretary said that in addition to the instability in eastern Somaliland, there is external interference from Puntland and the Federal Government of Somalia (both of which are opposed to an independent Somaliland) which are mutually seeking to keep the Somali union together through a federal system of government.
The House of Elders identified inequity of power sharing among Somaliland tribes, the flow of refugees from Yemen, and the onset of the summer dry season as reasons to postpone the elections. The crisis in Yemen closed livestock trade and other commercial activities between Somaliland and Yemen. The heat during the summer season, especially in coastal towns is nearly unbearable. In addition to the excessive heat of the summer season, the fasting month of Ramadan is expected to commence in June. The sultry summer combined with the fasting month of Ramadan would have very significant impact on voter registration turn out. Finally, the House of Elders pointed out that incomplete voter registration laws still require important amendments before new elections are held.
Faysal Cali Waraabe, head of the Justice and Welfare Party (Ururka Caddaaladda Iyo Daryeelka), is adamantly opposed to the postponement of the elections. He sees a storm gathering against Somaliland from several fronts. In his own words, “We are surrounded by the unrest in Awdal; the announcement of the emergence of an alliance between Khatumo and Awdal State; the buildup of troops in the village of Tuke Raq by Puntland forces, and the conference of Darod tribal members to be held in Galka’ayo” [to reinforce the unity of Darod tribes and reclaim their territories under the control of Somaliland]. Waraabe called for a nationwide tribal conference to discuss the fate of Somaliland.
Abdiraxaman Cabdillahi (Cirro), head of the Waddani opposition party and speaker of parliament, is against the extension of the terms of the presidency and House of Representatives. Cirro is seeking the replacement of the government even though his own term of office as a speaker of the House is part of the extended terms. His extension happened by default as he is the sitting speaker of the house. He did not refuse his extension as it is highly unlikely the House of Elders will reverse its decision.
Many observers as well as several emerging presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls point out that the House of Elders is manipulated by the Chairman of the House of Elders, Saleebaan Maxamuud Aadan. Aadan, who deliberately did not vote on the decision to extend the president’s and members of the House of Representative terms of service, was all along expected to play an influential role. Abdirashid Xassan Matan, vice presidential hopeful on the UCID ticket, contends that “Saleebaan should have never been the Chairman of the House of Elders because he is biased.” Adan has shown strong and close kinship ties to the president. He has become a confidant of the president in the House of Elders in order to get things done that are favored by the president. The House of Elders is a tribal institution that was established in the aftermath of the civil war. It was created for the purpose of diffusing conflict by acting as a kind of roving judiciary, intervening to solve conflict through customary law. It has strayed very far from its original purpose, and has become a lucrative place to make money without being held accountable to anyone.
The international community expressed its dismay over the term extension decision through the British Office in Hargeisa under the auspices of UK AID. A representative from the UK AID Office in Hargeisa noted that “International partners are now considering the implications and consequences of the Guurtis’ [House of Elders] decision which puts in jeopardy the foundations of the Somaliland Special Arrangement.” The “Special Arrangement” was a method devised to help Somaliland seek aid and assistance without being tied to the Federal Government of Somalia, which maintains legal and sovereign roles. Whatever little aid was being provided to Somaliland might be suspended if the House of Elders decisions are not reversed. The international community should focus on the reasons identified by the elders as obstacles to the elections rather than simply on the disputed extensions. The core tribe [Isak] is no longer the solitary determining force in regard to the future direction of Somaliland.
The elders have voted to extend the terms of office of the presidency and members of the House of Representative, but may well have shot themselves in the foot. Internal instability and lack of cohesion in Somaliland are now out in the open for the first time. They have tasked the current government with resolving the internal instability, but that governments’ ability to achieve this elusive goal remains unknown and uncertain at best. The elders identified Eastern Somaliland as the core problem behind the instability, but that can hardly be resolved in two years. There are serious, unresolved issues that involve the Dhulbahanta, Issa, Gadabursi and others identified as the “periphery tribes.” To date, these groups are not aligning themselves with Somaliland’s ambition for statehood. Even if the core tribe provides the inducement of government posts the various groups, the periphery tribes are still in charge of their land and will determine whether they want to be part of Somaliland or remain as regional entities of their own. Up until this time, many among the peripheral groups are demonstrating a preference for the federal system of government rather than for a separate state of Somaliland.