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Prominent Somali politicians protest at election overhaul deal

Tuesday May 30, 2023

MOGADISHU: A group of leading Somali politicians denounced Monday a move to overhaul the country’s electoral system and introduce universal suffrage, charging that there was a lack of broad consultation and that some of the proposals were unconstitutional.

Somalia’s central government and four federal member states announced an agreement on Sunday that a one-person one-vote system would be introduced with local elections set for June 2024.

It followed a pledge by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in March to end the complex clan-based indirect voting system in place for more than half a century in the troubled Horn of Africa nation.

Sunday’s agreement reached at a meeting of the National Consultative Forum also calls for a single presidential ticket in which voters would choose a president and vice president, effectively quashing the post of prime minister.

The proposals still have to be approved by parliament.

But about eight prominent politicians, among them former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and four former prime ministers, issued a statement Monday objecting to the agreement.

“We applaud efforts to get the country to a level of one-person one-vote and a multi-party system... that enforces democratic governance,” they said.

However, they charged that making a decision of such national interest “without the full representation of all federal member states, will put the unity of the people in jeopardy”, referring to the absence of Puntland’s president Said Abdullahi Deni at Sunday’s meeting.

“Making changes in the power-sharing mechanism and the governance system of the country without in-depth consultation, without consulting the public, will lead to a breakdown, a lack of confidence and the disintegration of society.”

The signatories voiced their opposition to a new electoral calendar calling for parliamentary and presidential votes in the federal states on November 30 next year, beyond the current expiry dates of some mandates.

They also objected to plans to limit to two the number of political parties able to contest elections, saying it meant that “power will be confined to a small group of people”.

Somalia is struggling to emerge from decades of conflict and chaos while battling a bloody insurgency by Al-Shabab jihadists and natural disasters including a punishing drought that has left millions facing hunger.

The country has not had one-person, one-vote elections nationwide since 1969, when the dictator Siad Barre seized power.

However, in a landmark move on Thursday, Puntland held direct elections for local councils, with Somalia’s international partners voicing hope they would inspire increased democracy across the nation.