Editorial: Are elections possible in 2024?

Sunday December 31, 2023 - 19:17:58 in Wararkii u danbeeyay
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    Editorial: Are elections possible in 2024?

    Hargeisa- The year 2023 was a turmoil in Somaliland. An election dispute shocked the stability, and the economy and war in the east defeated the army. Will 2024 be a better year?

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Hargeisa- The year 2023 was a turmoil in Somaliland. An election dispute shocked the stability, and the economy and war in the east defeated the army. Will 2024 be a better year?

At the end of 2021, a legal and political dispute erupted between the ruling and opposition parties. President Muse Bihi Abdi announced in October 2021 that new political associations would be registered and would compete for elections before the presidential elections take place. The presidential elections were already scheduled for November 2022. The opposition insisted that the presidential election should take place first and accused the President of orchestrating an extension of his term.

In June and August 2022, the opposition parties protested against election delays. The security forces killed five peaceful protestors on 11 August 2022, and over one hundred were wounded, according to the Human Rights Centre Somaliland report. The human rights advocacy group also stated that over one hundred protestors were detained without trial.

A bipartisan Parliamentary report findings detailed violations committed by the security forces, including plain-clothed intelligence officers.

The dispute continued, and the Guurti gave the President two years of extension. The opposition called the extension unconstitutional. The Guurti is the upper house of Somaliland’s bicameral legislature. Selected in clan conference in 1997, the Guurti has never been changed, a practice called by democracy activists as unconstitutional and undemocratic.

The stalemate and the deaths of civilians on 11 August 2022 caused the formation of an armed group that was stationed in the Ga’an Libah Mountains, a strategic location that is only 90 km away from the capital of Somaliland and not that far from the main port, Berbera. The militia, led by a former junior SNM (Somali National Movement) commander, vowed "to restore democracy” in Somaliland. The government called them disruptors, illegal and insignificant. The group hailed from the Garhajis clan, which supports the opposition and has been central to the SNM war in the 1980s. The opposition parties, however, distanced themselves from the group.

On 11 August 2023, exactly a year after the opposition protestors were violently crashed, the Ga’an Libah armed group and the specially trained police unit called the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) clashed. The police lost 12, and others were wounded. The armed group sustained injuries, including its leader.

Amid the political dispute and division, a war erupted in Las Anod in February 2023. Somaliland national army clashed with local militias of the Dhulbahante clan backed by the Puntland state of Somalia. After months of a bloody war that caused the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the killing and wounding of civilians, Somaliland’s army was pushed out of the Sool region on the fateful day of 25 August 2023, popularly known in Somaliland as Gooja-Adde, named after the gigantic army base of Somaliland which it lost to its enemy in the very early morning of Friday 25 August.

A military general was captured, and a video showing his capture circulated on social media.

It shocked and surprised many Somalilanders who believed Somaliland’s army was undefeatable. It was, however, apparent to the observers that Somaliland could not hold the base for that long. It was an inevitable defeat, yet a surprise that shook the nation.

Two days after Gooja-Adde, the clan leaders of Habar Jelo (Isaaq sub-clan) issued a decision resolving the political dispute and the Ga’an Libah armed group. The clan leaders said that the presidential and political association elections will be combined and take place in November 2024. This was seen by many as a win-win solution, giving the President the extension and allowing the opposition to take part in presidential elections. The President and the opposition accepted the deal.

Also, the leaders asked the Garhajis clan leaders to disband the Ga’an Libah group within five days and to pay the compensation of the slain police officers. This was also accepted, and the group was dismantled.

Moreover, the House of Representatives amended the electoral laws to provide the legal framework for the elections in 2024.

The good news was, however, disrupted by two incidents.

Firstly, the Guurit, the upper house of the Parliament, stalled the approval of the amended electoral laws. The Guurti are pro-ruling party.

Secondly, the President fired one of the members of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), whom the main opposition party, Waddani, nominated. Legally, the President has the power to recommend the dismissal of a member of the NEC, and the House of Representatives has the power to dismiss. The President made the dismissal two months ago and has not so far submitted to the House of Representatives.

Additionally, a statement made by the President in an event he hosted at his residency raised suspicions. The President told businessmen that the political parties are divided. He said that his party wants war in Sool, but not elections and the opposition is aspiring for elections. Taking into account the President’s acceptance of Habar Jelo's decision to hold elections in 2024, the remarks seemed odd.

According to the Minister of Finance, the economy of Somaliland is in bad shape. The budget is struggling. The dragged political dispute followed the COVID-19 setback, and the war in Las Anod drained the national treasure.

However, point six of the agreement between Somaliland and Somalia concluded in Djibouti this week may be a sign of peace.

Somaliland and Somalia agreed "to restore peace and stability at the hostile locations and regions [in Somaliland] and to stop [the wars] through the Somali culture,” the agreement between Somaliland and Somalia says in point six. This is an important development, taking into account that the government has been mobilising clan militias, it called civil defence, which were organised to fight against the Dhulbahante militias alongside the military. The government said the "civil defence” is there to protect the civilians.

The "civil defence” consists of members of Habar Jelo. A prominent Habar Jelo sultan, Mohamoud Guleid, accused the government of using his clan to delay elections and secure extension.

The Habar Jelo-secured-deal watered down the political tension and should not be violated. Somaliland will enter into unprecedented territory marked by deep distrust if this deal breaks.

The year 2024 will start in Somaliland with the formation of an opposition alliance consisting of Waddani opposition party and the newly formed political association, Kaah, which has the third largest members in the House of Representatives. Led by Mohamoud Hashi Abdi, the former minister of the presidency under President Siilaanyo, Kaah’s alliance with Waddani will be announced officially on 1 January 2024, and the members of the House of Representatives from the two camps will work together.

The new alliance will pose a political challenge to President Muse Bihi Abdi, who is seeking re-election. Mohamed Hashi Abdi supported President Bihi in the 2017 elections.

Are elections possible in 2024? Technically, holding the elections in 2024 is possible and doable. Politically, however, it needs commitment and willingness. The amended electoral laws need to be approved no later than the first week of January, and the issue of the dismissed member of NEC should be resolved without delay. Elections are possible if these two issues happen in the first two weeks of January. If not, Somaliland may slip back into the quandary.

This is an editorial of Somaliland Daily aimed to analyse the event of 2023 and envisage 2024.

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