By: Hasan Omar Horri
HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – This article examines the pre and post 28th November local council elections which remain one of the most memorable events in the country during 2012.
The initial steps towards the local council elections were initiated by the president H.E Ahmed Mahmud Silanyo when he established a committee of prominent personalities to collect public views on the opening of political group’s registration which was one of the president’s campaign pledges.
• In 2001 and 35 years after the country’s independence from Great Britain citizens voted 97% in a nationwide referendum for the first constitution of a sovereign Somaliland.
• December 2002: First democratic local council elections are held
• 2003: presidential elections held with the then ruling UDUB political party defeats the Kulmiye party’s presidential bid with less than 100 votes. The graceful acceptance of the verdict by current president Silanyo become a democratic milestone touted every in Africa where a lot of countries were and are still embroiled in election violence i.e. Zimbabwe/2005, Kenya/2007, Ivory Coast/2010 & DRC/2011
• 2005: the local councils whose mandate had expired continue to hold office after differences between the then three national parties of UDUB, Kulmiye and UCID differ.
• 2010: Presidential elections are held and incumbent president Dahir Rayale Kahin of UDUB party who upon an overwhelming defeat at the polls hands over peaceful to current president Ahmed Mahmud Silanyo of Kulmiye party
• November 2012: local council elections contested by 7 political groups are held nationwide
While the electioneering process was conducted peacefully the results of the 28th November 2012 local council elections which were disputed by some political groups led to disturbances that ensued with a number of deaths and injuries.
In reference to these fateful events and subsequent opinions by many people on the pros and cons of the 28th November 2012 local council elections and in lieu of similar exercise in the future of free and fair elections it is imperative that a number of issues be addressed as I have highlight below:
1. For the conduct of free and fair elections its is mandatory that the National election Commission-NEC act impartiality as a prelude to establishing a level playing field for all contestants by utilizing lessons learned in past elections as well as cooperation with the government, parliament and experts both local and foreign.
• Registration: the current NEC which received accolades from all quarters after its professional management of the last presidential elections held on 26th June 2010 failed in a number of issues during the local council polls especially as related to the utilization of available Data and manpower. There were 1,069,914 registered voters and 5000 trained election workers while past elections utilized 8000 field personnel. All contesting parties both winners and losers had various reservations with the impartiality of NEC after the election body went it alone without consultation with relevant stakeholders thus a dictatorial conduct which were exacerbated by the holding of elections devoid of a voters register, an anomaly that ensued for NEC after both houses of parliament approved an election law amendment that scrapped the then existing voters register. The holding of elections devoid of a voters register exacerbated matters.
• Polls management: NEC having allowed the conduct of balloting without a voters register, it was then discerned that anybody could vote so long as his colour was black. On election day long queues of voters among them under age children and incidences of people who had already voted overtly removing the paint from their fingers thus double/triple/quadruple voting were not only visibly to all but actually reported by the international election observers mission. This anomaly did not only infringe on the rights of citizens but cost the local council elections and NEC credibility as well.
• Number of Contesting Parties: Though the high number of 7 contesting parties was more than double that of three that contested the last presidential elections, this was not sufficient reason for the voters tally to double as per those of 2010 elections.
• Use of Candidate Numbers: The NEC decision, despite three contrary attempts by members of parliament (house of Representative) to use numbers instead of the usual symbols designated each candidate exacerbated matters further considering the literacy level in the country is low as rated at #199 worldwide.
The literacy levels are 37% for male and 25% for women in Somaliland at position #199 worldwide which is ahead of Sierra Leone 35.1%, Chad 34,5, Mali 31.1%, Niger 28.7%, Afghanistan 28.1% and Burkina Faso 21.8%.
In reference to the literacy level in the country the change from candidate symbols to identification numbers infers that 75% of the voters were disfranchised.
2. The electioneering process by political groups and their candidates together coupled with their superb voter awareness raising was an action worthy of the apt democratization process in the country.
3. Votes Tabulation and Results: These important activities were in the domain of NEC which we believe did a poor job considering the number of blunders that led to disturbances and subsequent attempts by the election body to reverse them, thus negating all the good performance by the administration, legislators, parties and citizens with the subsequent fateful events.
To conclude it is imperative that the National Election Commission put its act together thus deter the conduct of similar elections in the future.