My first impression on December local council election in Somaliland
By yussuf Abdillahi
Jan 01 2003
After several weeks of heated campaigning by the political parties, peaceful
local council election took place in Somaliland on December15, 2002. The
local council election was a positive step in the right direction and a
milestone for the democratic development of the country.
Participating in the first democratic election of the country, in more than
30 years, was an exciting affair for everybody who was involved in it. It
was particularly so for the youth who form the largest section of the
population in the country. The youth actively participated in the election
process as observers, enumerators, certifiers and voters. For the youth,
the local election was a learning process on electoral democracy and a great
introduction to one of the most important aspect of liberal democracy i.e.
the right to vote.
In immediate retrospective, there have been a variety of legal ambiguities
and /or fallacies and technical hurdles, which negatively impacted on the
election process. And while some of these can be explained away as
inevitable, many others could have been avoided or remedied altogether
A. the constitutional party limitations and the legal treshold
The current constitution of Somaliland limits the number of legal political
parties to three in the country. The political party registration law
clarifies this issue further by stating that any three parties that secure
20% of the votes out of four regions in the country shall gain legal
personality. But the election process could have technically produced four
or five parties with 20% of the votes in any given four regions of the
country and the law, needless to say, was silent on how to deal with this
The six regions of the country are not equally endowed with respect to the
number of their populations.The population of some of the regions approaches
half a million, while in others it is less than 20 thousand. The law
discounts regional population variations, therefore, when it equally demands
from all political parties to secure 20 % of the votes from any given four
regions, irrespective of their populations.The law also is statistically
biased against political parties, which have supporters concentrated in
the more populated centers of the country, like the capital..
Indeed, the three party limitations of the constitution and the 20% threshold
requirement were two sides of the same coin of obstacles, which the
ex-president put in place to load the dice against rival political parties*.
B. last minute party unions and tribal politicking
As the deadline for submitting party lists to the electoral commission
approached, the two political parties of HORMOOD and BIRSOL joined in a
union and submitted a single list of candidates to the electoral commission.
The two parties also declared Omar Arte as their candidate of choice for
the presidency. The union of the two parties, from the same sub-clan,
injected a tribal factor into what was, otherwise, a healthy electioneering
campaign. From the union of HORMOOD and BIRSOL onwards, notices of
resignations of party officials from a certain political party or another
started to appear in the local papers and party supporters began to
transmigrate between the parties, mostly for-my-tribe sort of reasons.
And SAHAN political party reinforced the trend towards tribal electioneering.
Being a latecomer to the political scene*, SAHAN leadership thought to itself
that the only way that they could possibly secure supporters at this eleventh
hour was to utilize the tribal card, which they did palpably.
C. arbitrary polling stations and full name registrations
Most of the polling stations in the local elections (600 out of the total 800)
were the same polling stations that were used in the 2001 constitutional
referendum of the country. Initially, the selection of referendum polling
stations were not based on a census conducted on the population of the
regions in the country, and using the same polling stations again for the
local elections was unwarranted at best.Other ways of distributing the
polling stations could have been explored. The arbitrary distribution of
the polling stations did have negative implications for the fairness of
the election process.
Shortly after the opening of polling stations at 7:00 o’clock, the people
formed long queues to vote for the parties of their choice. As time
progressed, the voting process became so slow that people started
to grow impatient. One culprits responsible for the delay was the
requirement to register the full names of the voters, their age and the
name of their mothers. Noticing this, the commission changed horses in
midstream and issued orders to polling station minders to confine
themselves to registering the first names of the voters .
D. duration of the election day
The way that electoral commission timed the duration of the voting in the
election day was chaotic indeed. Many days before the election, the
commission publicized that the polling stations will open on the election
day at 6:00 AM, and will remain open until 10:00 PM. But as the Makhrib
prayer approached, the commission issued a new order to close all the polls
at 6:00 PM. And while some polling stations closed in time, others remained
open for hours and people at the stations kept on voting.
E. easily removable dye and lack of party observer presence at polling stations
The dye used for marking the people after voting was removable and many
people managed to vote second or third time. I have met a father who told
me that he used a cough syrup for his sick child to remove the dye from his
hand and that he was ready to vote again for his party! Many women with
Henna on their finger also voted more than once. However, these voter
mischiefs were not as much widespread as to have significantly tipped
the balance for one party or another, if at all.
Majority of the political parties did not send party observers to most of
the polling stations. Sending observers to polling stations is a costly
business and few parties, like Kulmiye and UDUB, managed to send sufficient
number of their party observers to polling stations. Most of the political
parties lacked the funds to cover such a luxury.
F. the media and the election
On its part, the media had its fair share of the action both in the pre-
election campaign and afterwards. Every statement made by one party leader
or another kept appearing on a bold face in banner headlines. These
statements, sometimes, came in the form of mudslings against rival political
parties. In one instance, president Riyaale exchanged swords with Muuse
Biixi of Kulmiye party, when the latter described President Riyaales’s trip
to Sool region as a ‘failure for the government and its UDUB party’.In a
speech at Khayriya the next day, president Riyaale accused Muuse Biixi of
being a tribalist and a warmonger. The president cited a speech Mr.Biixi
made when he was the minister of the interior in 1994. In the speech,
Mr. Biixi blatantly threatened the opposition to his government by quoting
from a poem by Hadraawi, in which Hadraawi, referring to the forces of Siad
Barre, declared that:
anigoo wax dili kara
duco qaadan maayo,
ee debci qorigu hay faro!!!
As soon as the votes were cast, local papers started to predict the election
results. But, due to a lack of exit poll techniques expertise on the part of
the media crowd, papers invariably based the predication of election result
on the whims of their editors. This was particularly true of Jamhuuriya
newspaper, which, day after day, fed readers with bogus election results.
In the end, the presentations of the bogus election results turned out
profitable for Jamhuuriya, as it managed to sell more and thus increased
its circulation as a result
Given the level of socio-economic development of the people in the country
and the parochial nature of their political culture, the peaceful manner
that the election took place was beyond anyone’s the wildest expectations.
* As it is shown by the latest local election results, only UDUB,
the government party, managed to reach the 20% threshold by obtaining
42% of votes registred, for instance, in the four regions of Galbeed,
Awdal, Togdheer and Sahil, while KULMIYE and UCUD secured 17 % and
12% of the votes,respectively, from the above four regions.
* The ownership of SAHAN was claimed by two opposing groups for quite some
time, and it was only 24 hours before the deadline for submitting party
lists to the commission that the Party Registration Committee granted
the chairmanship of the party to Dr. Gaboose