Though Challenges Remain, Voter Registration Highly Successful-reveal int election observer mission in its Report on the 2016 Voter Registration Process in Somaliland
By; Yusuf M Hasan
Somalilandsun – The Somaliland voter registration process which began on 16 January 2016, concluding on 26 September 2016, and conducted by the Somaliland National Electoral Commission (NEC) in all six regions of the country, has been termed as largely successfully despite a few remaining challenges.
“Overall, we assessed that the NEC conducted a highly successful registration process, which was largely peaceful, well organised and effectively managed. The work of NEC staff was characterized by goodwill and a determination to complete the registration in a professional and independent manner, though a few challenges remain”
This is per a report by the International Election Observer-IEO mission as pertains to the Somaliland voter registration process of 2016.
Thto International development agency Progressio, the Development Planning Unit (DPU) at University College London (UCL), and members of Somaliland Focus (UK), observed the process at different points during this period. Our international election observer (IEO) mission followed previous observations by these three organizations of Somaliland’s House of Representatives election in 2005, presidential election in 2010, and local council elections in 2012.
The IEO mission that brings together International development agency Progressio, the Development Planning Unit (DPU) at University College London (UCL), and members of Somaliland Focus (UK), is largely a reputable body as pertains the Somaliland democratization having been active beginning with the House of Representatives election in 2005, presidential election in 2010, and local council elections in 2012, to date.
Despite a share of difficulties like regular election postponements the Somaliland democratization process has been largely successfully, notes the IEO adding that “This can be ascertained by the series of popular votes that have taken place, starting with a constitutional referendum in 2001, which was widely seen within the country as an endorsement of the restoration of Somaliland sovereignty. That was followed by full elections in 2002 (local councils), 2003 (presidential), 2005 (parliamentary), 2010 (presidential) and 2012 (local councils)”
Briefly the IEO report jointly compiled by the three mission members touches on various aspects of the 2016 process including
I. Women, minorities and displaced persons
II. Biometric registration technology
III. Legal framework
IV. Post-registration politics and
V. Clan and politics among others
On the process the mission reports that “ The voter registration process was designed on a regional basis, with each of Somaliland’s six regions registered in turn over a period of 28 days, with the whole registration estimated to take around four and a half months. Registration began in each region with an initial seven-day period in which a large number of voter registration centres (VRCs) were distributed throughout the region in order that the bulk of the local population could easily register. In the following two weeks, the number of VRCs was reduced signicant , principally operating in urban centres. In the final week, VRCs were only located in district capitals, with a small number of mobile teams travelling across the region to maximise the opportunity for registration”
This process was governed through a well articulated legal framework mainly
1. Somaliland’s main election laws are Law No. 20/2001 (and subsequent amendments, including schedules 1 to 5) relating to presidential and local council elections, and Law No. 20-2/2005 relating to the election of the members of the House of Representatives. And
2. Somaliland’s voter registration process is regulated by the Voters’ Registration (Amendments and Additions) Law No. 37/2007 (2014), a revision of the 2007 law that governed the 2008–10 voter registration process, and which now includes provisions relating to citizen registration. Further details of Somaliland’s voter registration process are elaborated in the NEC’s Voters’ Registration Implementation Regulations No. 01/2015, issued on 2 January 2016 under the powers accorded to the NEC under various provisions of Law No. 37/2007 (2014). A 46-page schedule to this document lists voter registration centres by district and region.
On the inclusion of Women, minorities and displaced persons during the 2016 the IEO mission observed that
While Article 21 (2) of the Somaliland Constitution guarantees equal participation of women and men in the electoral process, including the right to vote and be elected to a public office while it is estimated that women constitute more than 60 per cent of the eligible voting population, but they face major challenges when it comes to their participation in political leadership. The 82-member House of Representatives has only one female MP; the House of Elders (Guurti) has none.
“Some progress has been made in terms of women’s participation in VRC teams. In the 94 centres where we were able to record gender-based data, 44 per cent of supervisors were women. Overall, there seemed to be a relatively good gender balance amongst NEC registration staff. This seems to be attributable to a deliberate recruitment effort and recognition of women’s organisational skills by the NEC”
. The IEO team also observed fair and equal treatment of both sexes during registration
. We also observed that women, and particularly young women, were more likely to register at midday or in the afternoon once the bulk of their household and childcare activities had been completed.
During our observations, we saw a slightly higher number of women registering than men: out of 995 registrations observed, 474 were men (48 per cent), and 520 were women (52 per cent). We also observed that women, and particularly young women, were more likely to register at midday or in the afternoon once the bulk of their household and childcare activities had been completed.
On the biometric voter registration the IEO quoting results of a pilot project noted that the iris-scanning process as an effective safeguard against multiple voter registrations in Somaliland was approved by 84% of pilot project participants.
Accordingly it appears that the biometric technology was largely responsible for the recorded abs nice of multiple registrations during the entire exercise.
Post Registration politics
Although registration took longer than expected, these delays were not due to technical issues. However, the extension of the process meant that by the start of 2017, it was readily evident that
it was too late for a presidential election in March 2017. The failed rains in western and central Somaliland that had caused registration to be suspended had spread and worsened in the east of the country. Many pastoralists had therefore relocated to areas well beyond those in which they are expected to register and vote, forcing both politicians and the NEC to conclude that neither voter card distribution nor voting itself could take place when planned. Complicating matters, Ramadan in 2017 falls unusually early (in late June), and it is widely considered unacceptable to hold either an election or the statutory one-month campaigning period that precedes it, during those weeks. Electoral postponement was therefore regarded as necessary.
Clan and Politics
Clan influence continues to play a significant role in Somaliland’s politics due to the ties that local and regional clans have with the competing political parties and individual political figures. Clan groups and leaders have strong political influence through privileged access to political actors
and resources. This is likely to have impacted the registration process, particularly in rural areas where there is little government presence and clan ties, and authority are strong. The concern with ‘clannism’ remains the degree to which voting choices in general are influenced by clan affiliation rather than the policy positions of politicians or parties. Clan ties might consequently be assumed to affect the political accountability of elected politicians as they attempt to reward the loyalty of voters. This was underlined by our interviews, where some people expressed insight into the ways that local and regional clan segments influence the political process.
Political party representation
Article 35 of Somaliland’s Voters’ Registration (Amendments and Additions) Law No. 37/2007 (2014) requires that each political party ‘appoints a representative to be sent to each registration station to ensure that the registration activities are conducted in accordance with the law, no discrimination takes place, and that no citizen is unlawfully denied registration’. This is further specified in Somaliland’s 2015 Voters’ Registration Regulations, which require party agents to register a formal complaint if they observe any of the above matters or the unlawful
The IEO mission encountered all three party agents observing the process in 27 per cent of 110 centres. Waddani representatives were present in 60 per cent, Kulmiye representatives in 56 per cent and UCID representatives in 35 per cent of the centres observed. At times (in 16 per cent of centres observed) there was only one party representative present, but mostly we encountered at least two. In 27 per cent of cases no party agents were present.
“ Overall, party representatives conducted themselves in line with the NEC regulations outlined above, and were actively observing the registration process” Notes the IEO Mission adding that
We did not observe any party mobilisation in the queues. However, there was unquestionably clan- based mobilisation, and the relationship between parties and clans is still so strong in some areas as to render it impossible to distinguish party-focused activities from those that are more locally clan-based. During our visit to a mobile registration team near the Somaliland-Ethiopian border, we were informed that a Kulmiye parliamentary candidate had helped to organise the movement of registrants from across the border, giving each registrant a large bag of rice and sugar ‘from Muuse Biixi’. From the beginning of voter registration, Kulmiye presidential candidate Muuse Biixi took to
the road to promote the process with such vigour that his opponents complained that he was engaging in illegal political campaigning. His Waddani counterpart, Abdirahman Abdillahi ‘Irro’, followed suit, and once the registration reached Sanaag, senior members of each party descended on the region to urge people to register.
In general, though, our impression is that enthusiasm for registration was widespread and largely transcended political affiliation.
In conclusion the IEO report on the 2016 Somaliland voter registration notes
We are very pleased to note that key recommendations that we have made in previous election observation reports are being addressed, principally in this case the introduction of a credible voter register. While the current process has not yet been finalized, the registration itself appeared to proceed remarkably efficiently.
The challenges ahead appear to be primarily political rather than technical. As noted at the start of this report, the eventual release of district-level data is particularly likely to feed into heated debates over clan and political representation and parliamentary seat allocation. The NEC has been keenly aware of these sensitivities, and has guarded registration data closely. We address this sensitivity in our first recommendation below.
We were encouraged by the high levels of participation in registration from men and women throughout Somaliland. However, we remain keenly aware of the low levels of women in political processes more generally.
Women who see their interests represented in parliament and public policy-making are more likely to register and vote. There is an urgent need to align Somaliland’s constitutional commitment to gender equality with the reality on the ground. The Government of Somaliland could achieve this by creating a favourable environment for women’s active and meaningful political participation. This should include addressing the negative attitudes many people harbour against women in leadership roles, and identifying entry points to changing political mobilisation along clan lines – currently the main barrier to women’s political participation – as well as instituting adequate affirmative action policy measures, such as quotas. Together, these measures would enable women to overcome the structural discrimination they face in the political process and participate in a more equitable manner.
While these comments do not relate specifically to the voter registration process (and are therefore not included in the list of recommendations that follows), they are central to the legitimacy of political processes more broadly.
Click to Read the full Report by International Observers on the 2016 Voter Registration Process in Somaliland .