To avoid a power vacuum after my four-year mandate as Somalia’s president ended on Feb. 8, Somalia’s House of the People passed legislation in 2020 to ensure that the political transfer of power rightfully happens only through elections. This means that the current elected officials have to remain in office until they are reelected or replaced through the electoral process.
Somalia’s elections have been delayed not because I wish to cling to power, as some have falsely argued, but because of a political impasse that has led to a division between Somalia’s federal government and some of its member states on the way forward.
At the core of the disagreement is a conflict between my government’s goal of universal suffrage through direct elections and those who insist on an indirect election model that empowers elites and denies ordinary citizens a vote. It is time for the international community to ask: Why must a select few clan elders and leaders of the federal member states hold the Somali people hostage every four years? And why must the private interests of this small elite silence the voices of the millions of people they claim to represent?
In Somalia since 2012, all presidents, including myself, have been elected to a four-year term. But given that it is essential that the country’s future leadership be determined through an inclusive democratic process, the 2021 elections were delayed to fulfill this requirement. In the last two elections, Somali clan elders played a major role in selecting the political representatives for entire communities under a strict clan power-sharing formula.
These clan elders represented, and still do, the five major Somali clans that share governance powers within Somali society. Since all previous elections were indirect and concentrated enormous political power and influence in the hands of 135 clan elders, I was keen to prepare an improved model for elections rather than maintain the status quo. The fact that there were sequential peaceful transfers of power in Somalia in the past, despite the delays in all previous elections, is a testament to the increasing political maturity of our fragile state.
In Somalia, our federal model also necessitates a strong partnership between the federal government and the five federal member states, namely Puntland, Jubaland, South West, Galmudug, and Hirshabelle. These federal member states play a key role in the national electoral process. Given that Somalia is a representative democracy, the federal member states are vital constituencies for political representatives in both the House of the People and Senate, with the latter solely representing their interests at the federal government level.
From the beginning of my tenure starting February 2017, my government opened the political space for dialogue in advance of any electoral process to all the federal member states, which are the main election stakeholders. In fact, it was always our clear ambition to transition Somalia from indirect elections to full universal suffrage within my four-year term, and it seemed possible after we reached an agreement with the federal member states in June 2018.