Mogadishu, Jan 30: As Somalia marks three decades since a dictator fell and chaos engulfed the country, the government is set to hold a troubled national election. Or is it? Two regional states refuse to take part, and time is running out before the February 8 date when mandates expire.

A Parliament resolution allows President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and lawmakers to remain in office, but going beyond February 8 brings “an unpredictable political situation in a country where we certainly don’t need any more of that,” United Nations special representative James Swan told reporters this week.

Amid the campaign billboards and speeches in the capital, Mogadishu, is a sense of frustration as people are urged to support candidates but once again cannot directly take part.

“Nobody has ever asked us what we want or whom we would choose as President,” said Asha Abdulle, who runs a small teashop.

“Every President wants to extend his tenure and at least add one more year, so why can’t they make it official and hold elections every five years instead of four,”? wondered Abdirisaq Ali Mohamed as he watched TV at a hotel.

The uncertainty is ripe for exploitation by the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group, which has threatened to attack the polls. Meanwhile, the country is adjusting to the withdrawal of some 700 US military personnel, a process completed in mid-January.

A successful election means Somalia’s government can move on to address urgent issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, a locust outbreak and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by climate crises like drought.

Despite its insecurity, the Horn of Africa nation has had peaceful changes of leadership every four years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having Africa’s first democratically elected president to peacefully step down, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.

But the goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in Somalia remains elusive. It was meant to take place this time. Instead, the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” with Senators and Members of Parliament elected by community leaders – delegates of powerful clans – in each member state.

Members of Parliament and Senators then elect Somalia’s President.
An alliance of Opposition leaders, along with civil society groups, have objected, arguing it leaves them no say in the politics of their own country.
Now the regional states of Jubbaland and Puntland have refused to take part, objecting to issues including how electoral management bodies should be appointed and delegates selected. That includes delegates from the breakaway region of Somaliland, which considers itself an independent country though not internationally recognised.

Jubbaland and Puntland finally appointed electoral commissioners this week, a sign of progress. “No partial elections or parallel processes,”
the US Embassy said as it encouraged political leaders to meet on remaining issues. – AP