Somaliland held its 7th elections, an election to elect national parliament representatives as well as local district councils. While the international and regional observers even from neighbouring Somalia wait on results to determine whether or not these elections were fair and free, close to nothing is known about the self-declared republic, its political system and its relation to its neighbors.
The electoral process of Somaliland which is mandated by its constitution is new to the region and perhaps, the entire African continent. Somaliland has only three legally registered political parties that participated at least in two elections including the latest on May 31, 2021 and a number of political associations that register and galvanize youth waiting for their turn to be legally registered and eligible to participate in elections after a ten year cycle.
After the conclusion of the ten-year cycle, the performance as well as the following of the existing registered political parties will be evaluated and based on the aforementioned process, a new political party will enter the race and be registered as a political party replacing a low performing party since the constitution limits the number of political parties operating in the country to three.
Little is known about the internal dynamics of the three political parties and their policies toward Ethiopia, Somalia and the region. Development plans as well as other major areas of interest for regional and international observers. Addis Standard in the lead up to the elections sat down with different candidates from the three political parties as well as leaders and senior officials to get an insight into the parties’ expectations after election, policy changes and developmental plans.
Expectation from elections
The three politicians ran a total of 1,020 candidates and have a huge hope of securing a majority in national parliament as well as local councils. The leader of the opposition Justice and Welfare Party, Faysal Ali Warabe (UCID) told Addis Standard expressing such hope, “My biggest hope was for this election to be held. It was delayed, in fact over delayed. Also for this election to be held peacefully which happened,” he continued, “Now I can focus on my party and my hope is that we will take a majority in both the National parliament as well as local councils and secure the speaker position.” The chairman highlighted that a change of system is coming, he said, “In any democratic system, powers are divided between the legislative, executive and judiciary and what we have witnessed in recent years is that the three branches of government are being megged. So the opposition securing the majority in parliament is what we are striving for, it will be the first step into enacting a system where separation of powers is the norm.”
Liban Yusuf Osman is the Deputy Foreign Minister of the country, a senior official of the incumbent ruling party Kulmiye Peace, Unity and Development Party (Kulmiye) who became the Acting FM after the resignation of Veteran Diplomat and Foreign Minister Yasin Haji Mohamoud Hiir to run for a seat at the national parliament and compete for the speaker position. He expressed similar hopes and said, “Our expectations are very high on the national and local level. I have to say Our main agenda before the elections was to secure a peaceful voting process and I believe as you may have witnessed that it was peaceful,” he added concluding ,”The success of this election is a result of efforts made by the party chairman President Muse Bihi. We are expecting a majority in the national parliament as well as the speaker position.”
The leader of opposition Wadani party and former speaker of the national parliament was no different although expressing doubts about securing a majority. The former speaker said, speaking on the importance of the election, “This is a historical moment for our country as we hold our 7th election. Every past election was held alone by itself but this election stands alone as it is the first time the country holds two elections at the same time. We agreed on the electoral process and thankfully it was held peacefully.” He continued expressing hopes after elections,” We expect the majority of the local councils will be from the two opposition. With regards to the national parliament which has 82 seats and its absolute majority stands at 42 according to the constitution, I don’t think there will be an absolute majority but the Wadani party is planning to compete for and win the speaker position, the opposition have to agree with the speaker” The Wadani party candidate is competing for the speaker position through its first deputy Abdilrazzaq Khalif.
The Somaliland National Electoral Commission (SLNEC) is set to announce the results soon but has announced that the counting of results for seats in the national parliament was finalized in 5 regions out 6 regions. The commision stimenously announced that results for 19 out of 20 local councils were finalized. In anticipation of the SLNEC announcement of final results, preliminary results show the opposition leading in the national parliament.
Relations with Ethiopia and Foreign Policy goals.
All three leaders explicitly expressed that there is no shift in any party’s policy to distance Somaliland from Ethiopia. The Acting FM said, “The relationship between Somaliland and Ethiopia is long standing and this relationship surpasses any relations between any two countries. There are the security agreements and the economic integration and it is very hard to isolate Ethiopia from Somaliland,” he continued stressing, “I would say from my position as the Acting FM, the relationship is solid. Our expanding relations with other countries does not mean that the Somaliland government or Kulmiye party wants the special relationship between the two countries affected.”
The former speaker and leader of Wadani party complemented the Acting FM and added, “We have cordial relations with Ethiopia, we established relations with Ethiopia in 1991 and I myself like many Somalilanders have family ties in Ethiopia and I think Ethiopia is the most important partner in economy and security. Our party’s policy is to enhance trade with Ethiopia after the conclusion of the Berbera port project and we plan on strengthening the relations.”
However, the leader of the oldest political party in Somaliland UCID expressed disappointment at the neglect Somaliland suffered under the current government in Ethiopia led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The veteran politicians said, “Somaliland and Ethiopia economies are integrated and almost an estimated 50-60% of the population of our country have residence in Somali region of Ethiopia. The current government in Ethiopia neglects Somaliland’s demands and attempts to eliminate Somaliland’s existence by empowering Somalia. Our party policy is to strengthen the relationship with Ethiopia.” He added, speaking on his party’s foreign policy goals “We are the lost sons of the commonwealth and strengthening relations with Anglophone Africa is the right step forward and it is our party’s policy to take our case to Anglophone and Francophone Africa. We expect to be ready when the East African Economic union is achieved.”
Faysal said talking about the recent rapprochement with Kenya, “We have not excluded any country from our approach, we just expanded our relations and sought after our interest.” He also expanded on future policies, “Arab countries and Somaliland before uniting with Somalia had good relations and we strive to have their recognition and support. As the party chairman and one of the negotiators of the Berbera port deal I can say the relations with the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the middle east are improving and need more work.” He stressed that Somaliland under his party’s rule will become a member of both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The chairman concluded by saying,”The case of recognition is not the failure of the international community, I would say it is a failure in leadership. Our policy is to use Somaliland’s strategic position in the red sea and the oil resources Somaliland has to secure more recognition.We will gain our influence in Africa.”
The Acting FM, Liban Yusuf on his part said speaking on future foregn policy objectives of the government and Kulmiye party, “Our Approach will not only target Anglophone Africa, it is also targeting Francophone Africa and we strive to establish good relations with the entire continent. We plan to have a footprint in Africa and we believe Africa is our gate to more recognition.” The Minster said highlighting recent strides made with regards to the country’s position in Africa, “The party foreign policy program has been successful so far but our policy as a party is to secure recognition through ensuring security, development and delivering democracy. Also utilizing the strategic geographic location of Somaliland to attract more investments hence gaining more recognition. We believe that Somaliland becoming the most peaceful, democratic and economically developed in the region will propel us to gain the recognition that we deserve.” Going through the african union.” The Acting FM concluded on this point by highlighting the importance of working with the Arab league and OIC as well as the EU member states.
Abdulrahman Mohammed on his part said speaking on further foreign policy objectives of Wadani party, “Our attempts to connect more with Anglophone Africa and other parts of Africa is not new and is a policy of the Wadani party. We will build more relations and continue to expand.” The former speaker said on the importance of stranger relations with both the Arab league and OIC, “Somalis in general are close to the Arab and Muslim world, our relations with that part of the world was not in good shape until we started to have relations with UAE and we will contiue to strengthen these relations. Not only the Middle East and the islamic world, everyone has to help us gain recognition and our policy is to secure that by all means available to us.”
Talks with Somalia
Candaties as well as leaders of the three political parties offered little details on the status of talks with Somalia. Both Liban Yusuf, the acting foreign minister and senior official of Kulmiye party and Abdulrahman Mohammed, the former speaker of parliament and the leader of Wadani party expressed their parties commitment to continuing talks with Somalia citing its importance and pressure from Somaland’s partners as reasons for their parties’ positions.
But Faysall Ali, a veteran politician and the leader of UCID, one of the oldest political parties in Somaliland, shockingly showed a departure from recent stands of support for talks with Somalia. He said, “We are going to stop talks with Somalia, because it was Somaliland’s biggest mistake when it started talking with Somalia back in 2012, ” he continued explaining, ” We won the war, we established our independence and Somalia is a failed state who has no viable form of government. We don’t think talks with Somalia are the basis of which we will gain recognition.” He concluded by clearly stating UCID party position and disclosing information related to the party’s policy towards Somalia , “Our party policy is also to challenge Somalia’s seat at the united nation. Somaliland applied separately before joining the first Somali republic and now after 30 years of independence, Somalia still holds both its seat and Somaliland’s.”
Talks between the two countries have failed to reach a final agreement even after the recent talks held in Djibouti. The Acting FM told Addis Standard, “The latest talks were sponsored by Ethiopia and Djibouti. We made our case to every observer and mediators but our counterparts in Somalia can only come with unity as a solution. The fact remains that there is no functioning government in Somalia and we fear that agreements reached with them might not be honoured, an issue we have encountered in the past. “
Candidates of the three political parties ran on promises to deliver needed development to their respective constituencies. Leaders of the three political parties acknowledged the need for development and disclosed to Addis Standard policies aimed at delivering needed development.
Abdulrahman Mohammed said, “Wadani party developed a political program that focused on development as a main factor. After this election Wadani will work on multiple fronts to deliver development projects needed by the people of Somaliland,” the former speaker added concluding, “Our policies are focused on education, community based education and we believe that will deliver development. We will also focus on health considering it a basic right and bearing in mind that every citizen has the right to easy access to it.”
The Acting FM acknowledged the need for development and highlighted efforts made by his ruling parties on promises it made. He said, “We believe Infrastructure is the most prominent development question for Somalilanders.” The minister also highlighted the need for developing more ports, he said, ” We have a long coastline with little development and we will work to get the needed funding to develop, ” he continued highlighting recent gains “We have a deal with DP World to build the corridor. ” The minister also disclosed a development policy of his party, he said, “The Building of institutions is another area of development that the Kulmiye party will focus on. Building the police and the judiciary system, developing our navy as well as other institutions.”
Faysal Ali on his part spoke about his party ideology and explained the main areas of focus for the UCID party with regards to development. The chairman said, “Our party is a social democratic party, a center left party as well, ” he continued, “Our policy is focused on two sectors: education and health and if we win in this election we are going to allocate 70% of the budget to developments of the education and health sectors.” The chairman acknowledged the need for focus on infrastructure while insisting that education and health came first, ” Any Somalilander can tell you there is a serious need for Infrastructure and rural development and our goal is to address these demands too.”
Human rights, Women and Minority Participation
Somaliland saw little participation of women in previous elections. This election is no different as only 28 female candidates (12 UCID, 9 Kulmiye and 7 Wadani) ran for all three political parties from a total of 1,020 candidates. This election also saw almost no participation from minorities as only one minority candidate ran as a member of Wadani Party. Leaders from all three political parties failed to explain the low participation of women and minorities but said that societal restrictions as well as limit of time prevented more participation in both categories.
On Somaliland’s human rights record and its crackdown on independent media, the acting FM said, “As we speak there isn’t a journalist who is jailed for his opinions. I won’t deny that there were separate incidents where journalists were arrested or harassed and it was not sanctioned by the government nor is it the policy of the Kulmiye party to limit the space for freedom of expression.” The minister further said, “We established a human rights commission and we work very hard in ensuring these rights, ” he concluded by saying, “People can join any party, associate themselves with anyone and journalists can write whatever they want.”
Both leaders of the opposition political parties praised the country’s record in human rights and highlighted that freedom of expression in Somaliland is best practiced in the entire horn of Africa region. However, Faysal Ali acknowledged the occurrence of violations and said, “I disagree that Somaliland is an oppressor of freedom of expression. Somaliland has more freedom of speech than many European countries but the absence of a clear media law is problematic so our party policy is to ensure the protections of journalists and media houses.”