Somalia: Donors Face Dilemma After MPs Extend Farmaajo's Mandate

Somali capital Mogadishu (file photo).

Somalia's donors are facing a dilemma on how to react to the move on Monday by the country's Parliament to extend the mandate of President Mohamed Farmaajo.

The President signed the motion into law extending his mandate for another two years, despite opposition from some leaders in the country and threats of sanctions from the international community.

Three federal member states--Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West--and the Banadir Regional Authority (BRA), which includes Mogadishu municipality and surrounding locations, issued a letter on Monday endorsing the parliamentary decision.

"The house delivered its duty and we urge the people to support the decision," they said.

The immediate question on Tuesday was whether the decision of the Lower House alone could extend the mandate of a President elected in a joint bicameral sitting in 2017.

But the decision also effectively shut down talks on how to conduct an indirect election as earlier agreed, crossing one of the red lines established by donors on the electoral model.

Motion

The Lower House of Parliament passed the motion to extend the mandate of both the MPs and the President by not more than two years. After this, the legislators say Somalia should be ready to hold universal suffrage, a type of election the country hasn't held in 50 years.

Somalia's President Mohamed Farmaajo promptly welcomed the passage of the motion, arguing legislators had "restored power to the people" and warned against outside manipulation.

"All government agencies shall carry out their mandate using diplomatic terms and principles without tolerating outside interference," Villa Somalia, the president's official residence in Mogadishu, said.

"The government shall play a role in the implementation of the electoral law as passed by the House of the people to rightfully restore the constitutional power to the Somali people."

The vote went counter to a rallying call by the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), the European Union, the US, UK and other main donors for Somalia. They had on April 10 warned against decisions to organise parallel elections or extend the mandate of the incumbents. They had also warned against any attempts to secure power illegally.

"[We] underscore that the 17 September Agreement remains the most viable path towards the holding of elections in the shortest delay possible, and urge the Federal Government and the Federal Member State leaders to review and validate the 16 February 2021 Baidoa Technical Committee.

"[We] reaffirm [the] decision not to support any parallel process, partial elections, or new initiatives leading to any extension of prior mandates."

Opposition

Opposition group, the National Salvation Forum, warned on Tuesday evening that the move was a threat to Somalia's peace and security.

"The Forum, in consultation with various sections of the Somali society, will take necessary steps against unconstitutional term extension and take measures to find a solution for the transitional period," the Forum, which brings together 15 presidential aspirants and leaders of Jubbaland and Puntland states, said in a statement.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Farmaajo's predecessor, also weighed in saying, "Government officials are elected to lead the country for a specified period in the constitution."

"Attempts to forcibly increase this period are considered military coups. The President will be responsible for the consequences," he wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC), a caucus of Farmaajo's rivals led by former Transitional President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, strongly opposed a term extension.

The candidates called the parliamentary action 'illegitimate.'

"We members of the Coalition of the Presidential Candidates insist that the term extension enacted by Golaha Shacabka (the Lower House of Parliament) is inconsistent with the provisional constitution of Somalia," said Ex-President Ahmed, reading the group's statement.

He urged the people of Somalia to unanimously counter what he termed "a dictatorial decision".

In the coalition's statement, the group requested Somalia's international partners to take action.

Law

With Somalia having no functioning constitutional court to interpret lacunas in the law, the move by Parliament left analysts haggling over its legality.

"Article 47 of the Somali Transitional Constitution expressly gives the power [to enact] electoral legislation to the Lower House," said Adam Aw Hirsi, a former senior government official in Somalia.

Mr Aw Hirsi told The EastAfrican that the Lower House, also known as the House of the People, was right as it was technically addressing an electoral calendar issue.

"Technically, there is no 'power extension' here. A new timeline was set for elections. The Lower House of Parliament legislated that the current government will see to it that elections happen and in not more than two years," he said on Tuesday.

How donors react to the move would be crucial in assessing whether the extension will work. Parliament passed the motion even though its own four-year term had technically ended on December 27, 2020. President Farmaajo's term had also ended on February 8 this year.

The incumbents had stayed on in office based on another motion passed last year to have them stay put until new officials are elected. Somalia's leaders failed to agree on a date and model of an indirect election.

Elections

Somalia had failed to organise universal suffrage in four years, despite aiming for it. Critics say that two years will be insufficient to organise one-person-one-vote elections, when stakeholders are still bickering on election dates.

"The international community has drawn three red lines on the Somali electoral process: no partial elections, no parallel processes, no extension," said Mohamed Abdi Ware, former President of Hirshabelle state.

"Today, one of three red lines, extension, has been crossed. Will the other two hold? What will the international community do?"

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