Somalia: Is Somalia Ready for a One-Person One-Vote Election?

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Somali flag.

It's been 50 years since Somalia last conducted a "one-person one-vote" election. With the support of the African Union the electoral commission is hoping for polls in 2020. But there is still much that needs to be done.

"I request parliamentarians in this workshop to advocate for 'one-person one-vote'," Halima Ismail Ibrahim, chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission of Somalia (NIEC), urged Somali lawmakers on Saturday.

Together with African Union (AU) officials and members of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Somali officials and advisers gathered in the Ugandan capital to discuss security and ways forward to prepare for possible universal elections in 2020.

For Somalia, such an election would be the first universal suffrage polls in half a century. Somalia's last universal vote was held in 1969, shortly before the coup that brought military leader Siad Barre to power. Following two decades of civil war and then rule by a transitional government, backed by the United Nations and the African Union, Somalia has slowly been inching its way toward universal polls.

Three previous presidential elections in 2009, 2012 and 2017 were decided in a system where lawmakers were voted in by about 14,000 clan delegates. The lawmakers then in turn elected a president. The clan-based election system has been widely criticized for marginalizing young people, women and ethnic minorities.

Yet both Somali and African Union officials hope that 2020 will be different. In December 2017, the NIEC launched a five-year plan to draft electoral laws, plan voter registration and work on setting up the right mechanisms to hold an election. Since then, 22 political parties have registered themselves for the polls. The electoral law is still waiting for approval from parliament.

"We are all aware that Somalia has not had this type of election for the last 50 years," said Ssebirumbi Kisinziggo, AMISOM's senior political officer. "The essence of planning, coordination and having a strategy in place is what we are working on at the moment."

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