Somalia Pledges Free and Fair Polls in Spite of Challenges

Empty ballot boxes set up at Superior Complex polling site in downtown Kampala.

Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has said the country is working towards a free, fair and timely election to sustain its rise from years of conflict.

In his inaugural speech to the UN Security Council on Monday, Mr Roble said the planned elections that start next month should signal a permanent departure from chaos that for long defined the country.

"We seek our partners' renewed commitment to timely and adequate technical and financial support to relevant institutions and bodies tasked with organising and overseeing the 20/21 elections," he said.

Mr Roble pledged to ensure at least 30 percent of seats in parliament are taken by women to "ensure women's participation is developed."

Somalia plans to hold parliamentary elections in December before holding a presidential vote by February 8 next year.

Consensus

The vote had initially been planned for universal suffrage. But delays in passing requisite legal regime, budgetary constraints and security challenges posed by al-Shabaab saw the plan discarded.

Next month's vote will be indirect, but an improvement from the 2016 one as delegates will this time be appointed by the clan elders in collaboration with local electoral commissions, at federal and state levels.

The arrangement is part of a deal reached between President Mohamed Farmaajo and five Federal Member States (FMS) of Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West and Jubbaland in September.

Mr Roble, however, promised the audience that Somalia should hold one-person-one-vote by 2024.

According to the PM, a technical committee of officials from Interior, National Electoral Commission and representatives from his office is studying the challenges that must be overcome to ensure universal suffrage before 2025.

"Let me take this opportunity to inform you that the technical committee has already drafted the roadmap and it will be presented to the cabinet for endorsement," he said.

"In addition to that, my government will make consultations with the federal member states and other stakeholders before the roadmap will be presented to the federal parliament for adoption."

It was Mr Roble's first ever speech to the UN Security Council as Prime Minister of Somalia. He spoke, virtually, alongside James Swan, the UN Secretary General's Representative to Somalia and Francesco Madeira, the head of the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Mr Swan told the council that the Somali stakeholders should implement their consensus deal as agreed.

"The broad political consensus reached in September that ended a two-year stalemate in Somalia must be preserved and indeed deepened," the UN envoy told the Security Council, referring to the indirect election model.

Despite not being an ideal election model, he said it was what could work this time.

"Although the agreed model of voting regrettably fell short of the constitutional requirement for parliamentary elections based on the principle of universal suffrage, it did reflect a wide Somali political consensus and ownership," Mr Swan said.

"In addition to the support of the President and federal member state leaders, the indirect model was also endorsed by other key Somali stakeholders, including political parties and civil society, and was ratified by the Federal Parliament."

That model was supported by several political parties including the opposition alliance Forum for National Parties. But controversy emerged last week over the composition of electoral committees charged with running the polls. Some opposition candidates claim the list announced includes cronies of the President, something his office refuted.

Mr Roble had argued last week that the government understands a free and fair election is what will ensure Somalia's stability.

Dialogue

During the session on Monday night, US Permanent Representative to the UN Kelly Croft called for more open discussions between parties to ensure no disagreements on the electoral plan.

"We urge the FGS and the FMS to continue their dialogue and to achieve consensus on all electoral process matters, from the composition of the electoral management bodies to Somaliland seats in parliament," the envoy told the UN Security Council session.

"We encourage further consideration and the timely implementation of the draft National Election Security Plan, noting that the December 1 scheduled start of parliamentary elections is just days away."

Mr Madeira said Somalia had made positive steps in the recent past and called for the momentum to be sustained.

"Recent state efforts to improve governance, promote dialogue and strengthen security in Somalia were worth appreciation," he added.

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