Somalia’s new MPs are due to be sworn in soon after a unique election for its parliament – known as the House of the People. But people haven’t voted in a poll that has dragged on for a record four months – more than double the time it took to pass India’s electionthe largest democratic exercise in the world, in which more than 600 million people voted.
In Somalia, only a few thousand people voted for a parliament that would represent the nation of around 16.3 million people.
Indeed, Somalia uses a complex and indirect political system and political parties do not stand for election. Nor are there “one person, one vote” elections.
Instead, the 275-member People’s House is chosen by delegates nominated by clan elders and members of civil society who are selected by regional state officials. MPs then vote for a president, who leads the country.
A 54-member lower house, the Senate, representing Somalia’s five regional states, also takes part in the presidential vote.
Why are MPs chosen this way?
It shows the power of clans in Somalia – they form the backbone of a society in which western-style democracy has not taken root.
They also fill the void created by the lack of a functioning state – Somalia has had none since the fall of the socialist regime led by Siad Barre in 1991.
As there is intense rivalry among Somali clans, the system is based on a power-sharing formula, where the four main clans have an equal number of parliamentary seats and the remaining clans are lumped together and given half the number.
This makes representatives of Somali clans political kingmakers.
Most of them are due to be sworn in as MPs later Thursday, after elections for both parliamentary chambers. But the elections in some regions have not yet been concluded due to disputes over various issues, including the eligibility of candidates.
However, this is unlikely to delay the nomination of other MPs.
The elections were rocked by my massive corruption, abuse of power and disregard for election rules. Millions of dollars are believed to have been spent buying delegates in some cases.
Unfortunately, the country does not have institutions capable of acting against corruption.
Qatar is a major player on the political scene. Analysts believe he single-handedly bankrolled current President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s campaign in the 2017 vote and had considerable access to his administration.
What will be the priorities of the new MPs?
Huge public pressure exists for parliament to act quickly to elect a new president, as President Farmajo’s term expired in February 2021.
But he remained in office because political wrangling and lack of preparation delayed legislative elections, leaving him – and lawmakers – without a mandate to govern.
The parliamentary election was ultimately held under pressure from Western donors – including the United States which restricted visas for officials seen as undermining the electoral process.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it could end its financial support to Somalia by mid-May if the elections are not over.
Once a new government takes office, it will have to tackle Somalia’s challenges – including the drought. It has worsened over the past three years and aid agencies are now warning of a famine.
More than 3.5 million people need food aid and 1.4 million children suffer from severe malnutrition.
What is the West’s interest in Somalia?
Their main concern is the growth of militant Islam. Somalia is the headquarters of Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda considered the most dangerous in Africa.
Militant Islam flourished in Somalia around two decades ago after US-backed Ethiopian troops stormed the capital, Mogadishu, to oust the Islamic Courts Union (UIC) from power .
The defeat of the UIC led to al-Shabab gaining strength, as militants vowed to drive out the “invaders”.
Today, al-Shabab controls many parts of Somalia and carries out frequent attacks aimed at overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist regime.
In the 2012 and 2016 elections, al-Shabab threatened and even abducted clan elders after condemning them for participating in what it considered an un-Islamic election.
This time around, its response to the elections has been more muted, fearing that its members or supporters may have been secretly seeking parliamentary seats with the aim of undermining the system from within.
The fear was publicly expressed by neighboring Djibouti President Omar Guelleh in 2020, when he was quoted as saying: “I fear that we end up with a parliament controlled indirectly by al-Shabab because they will have bought the support of some MPs.”
Some analysts have argued that Mr Guelleh was exaggerating the possibility of al-Shabab gaining a foothold in parliament, but there is no doubt that it is a major political force in Somalia.
Could Somalia become a democracy?
Somali leaders agreed long ago that single-vote elections would take place this year, but they have not kept their promise.
This was not surprising, as some of the key requirements – including the registration of political parties and the ratification of a new constitution by referendum – have not been met.
It is unclear to what extent this will be the priority of the next government, which will have many enormous challenges