After lengthy discussions and negotiations, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and federal member state leaders agreed upon the electoral model and set a timetable for the election. The approved electoral model is the replication of the 2016 elections model with some modifications. They have increased the number of delegates who will elect each member to 101, which many believe means more corruption, bribery and fraud. They have also increased the registration fee up to $10,000 for the lower house and $20,000 for the upper house, limiting the number of people running for each seat. Therefore, money is the first determiner of qualifying or disqualifying someone for running for a parliamentary seat. That means if the candidate does not pay the registration fee, he or she cannot run for the parliament post of his clan.
Of course, placing such a policy as a prerequisite would deny some people the opportunity to run, especially the ambitious young generation that dreams of making an impact in their homeland but does not have the money for registration nor the will to bribe delegates and clan elders. This is another reminder of how money controls everything, from registration to campaigning to the election.
No doubt, it plays a critical role in the Somali political spectrum. Meanwhile, the process of electing the upper house members had also been changed. This time the state parliament member will select who will represent that state in the upper house.
The upper house has been very ineffective and dysfunctional since it was first added to the legislative body in 2016. Yet, it was a significant bargaining platform throughout the successive dialogues between the FGS and member states.
However, the announcement of the new electoral model was perceived as a good step forward toward political stability and holding timely elections, which will ultimately lead to a peaceful transfer of power.
But it seems we Somalis are missing the bigger picture; the selection and adaptation of the new electoral model came from a small circle – the president of the federal government and presidents of the federal states, which set the rules. That means the new electoral model will only work for that small circle, which is why a high registration fee was requested.
Only those elites and the ones around them can afford that amount of money and the bribery that is required to win the parliamentary post. But in reality, it was a setback for the long-projected one person one vote model that Somalis sought for a while. Even the international community, which is a crucial political stakeholder, expressed its concerns that the repetition of the previous model without any visible changes impedes the democratization process of Somalia.
Indeed, it was a symbol of political maturity that Somalis alone could agree on decisive issues such as an election without any foreign intervention. Simultaneously, it was a symbol of political failure and elite dysfunctionality that the country is still where it was four years ago.
Many Somalis were in disbelief of what our political leaders came up with after days of meetings and negotiations, spending public resources that would have allowed many Somalis to receive government services, including education, health and so on. It seems illogical and irrational to still rely on traditional governance.
Of course, there is no denying that traditional leaders and particularly clan elders were the cornerstone of social and political stability for the last 30 years, on the one hand. But their conservative method, which is based on kindship and clan identity, undermines the realization of modern institutions in Somalia, on the other hand.
Relying on traditional system
The new electoral model means the prolongation of reliance on the traditional system. Since 1991 when the central government collapsed, traditional governance with the leadership of clan elders has remained the only source of law and order and a method of conflict resolution. Without any government that provides security and stability, traditional leaders stepped up to claim responsibility and strived to create some peace and a nonviolent environment so daily life could continue.
However, when the transitional federal government was established in 2004, and internationally recognized in 2012, it was anticipated to mark the cessation of the traditional system and its conventional methods. But on the contrary, the domination of the traditional conventions and clan elders sustained with the customary law, overshadowing the provisional constitution.
The military regime came to power because the civilian government failed to separate state and government affairs from the traditional system and influence or modernize it to be compatible with the modern state.
Moreover, the same cause ended the economic and social successes that the military regime accomplished during its first epoch. This eventually led to the rise of the clan rebels and the politicization of the traditional system, which ultimately brought the military rule to an end.
Nevertheless, Somalia has relied upon its traditional governance and leaders for quite some time. More than ever, Somalia needs either to modernize its traditional apparatus or separate from politics and modern state affairs such as elections.
Most of the Somalis, and particularly the young and educated ones, want to see the impact of clan identity ended so they can compete for political offices without taking any legitimization or permission from the traditional apparatus or being forced to buy votes and pay bribes.
But the new electoral model, which gives enough influence and power to the clan identity and its conventional system, compels anyone running to be recognized first by his clan or kinsman.
That is the political reality on the ground as Somalia needs to overcome such a system regardless of the cost, which undermines the election of capable leaders that can lead the country to long-awaited political stability and economic development. Will one person one vote and allowing people to go to the ballots and elect their leaders achieve that? No doubt, it will all depend on how Somalia manages or shapes its multiparty system.
One person one vote
The normalization and institutionalization of the clan politics and identity took place since 1991, which marked the end of the central authority in Somalia. Some would argue it had even begun long before that. But the new electoral model highlights two essential aspects. First, it highlights that the traditional system is still dominant and plays a critical role in the political spectrum.
Although it seems to benefit particular groups such as corrupt politicians, it is a source of legitimacy and acceptability among Somalis.
Second, it also highlights the apparent concern among Somalis and even the international community that the new electoral model is a massive setback to the long-overdue one person one vote model, as well as the democratization and institutionalization process of the country in general.
What validates this worry and frustration is that Somalia adopted a similar electoral model with the 2016 elections.
The result was not great; analysts and experts on Somalia branded that election the most corrupted election in the history of Somalia. As indicated in many reports and commentaries written after the election, corruption reached its highest peak with candidates bribing delegates and clan elders and buying votes.
Foreign money, significantly cash from the Gulf countries, was flowing into the country. However, it was crystal clear the 2016 electoral model accommodated corruption, which indicates the fact that the new model too will very much accommodate bribery and vote-buying.
However, the question remains, if we are still where we were four years ago, what did we achieve in the last four years? What are the steps taken toward the multiparty system and democratization? Somalis need to be honest with each other if we are to realize real political and economic changes.
Considering our current situation, it is clear that we are very far away from heading toward a multiparty system. The renunciation and abandonment of institutionalizing clan identity and politics should be the first of the radical changes that Somalia needs to enact.
* Ph.D. candidate in political science and public administration at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University