INTERVIEW: Architecture around Somalia’s electoral process is finitely more robust than in 2012 – UN envoy

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia (SRSG), Michael Keating, speaks during a meeting with a section of Somali women leaders on the political participation of women, held in Mogadishu, Somalia on September 5, 2016. UN Photo / Omar Abdisalan

7 Nov 2016

INTERVIEW: Architecture around Somalia’s electoral process is finitely more robust than in 2012 – UN envoy

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is mandated with many tasks in the east African nation as it continues to make significant strides in its peace process after two decades of lawlessness and conflict.

These tasks include helping the Federal Government to promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment, promote child protection, prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, and strengthen justice institutions.

They also include providing policy advice on peacebuilding and state-building in the areas of governance, security sector reform and rule of law, the development of a federal system and democratisation – with the latter including helping with preparations for its political transition, which includes an inclusive national electoral process planned for 2016.

Under the country’s Provisional Federal Constitution, the mandates of the Federal Parliament and of the President of the Federal Republic end this year and a political transition is necessary to re-constitute and re-legitimize the country’s political institutions. While universal elections are not yet possible, an electoral process has been developed to facilitate enhanced political participation, with an eye towards universal elections by 2020. The new Federal Parliament will consist of 275 members of the House of the People and 54 members of the Upper House of Parliament.

Voting for the members of the Upper House took place on 10 October, and voting for members of the House of the People is taking place between 23 October and 10 November 2016, with a president to be elected on 30 November by members of both chambers of parliament.

With voting for the lower house underway, the head of UNSOM, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, shared some of his thoughts on the elections.

UN News Centre: People are expressing concern that the electoral process has been dictated to the Somali people by the international community and the UN. Can you explain how the process was arrived at?

Michael Keating: Yes, it’s taken about 18 months to design the model for this electoral process. The first major decision was back in the middle of 2015 when Parliament and Federal Government decided that Somalia is not ready for universal elections-one-person one-vote-for a variety of reasons including the fact that there isn’t avoter registry, the institution capacity is absent including the national electoral commission. So, then there was a consultative process starting in September 2015, went on for several months and that actually involved an unprecedented number of meetings around the country.

And that generated a lot of ideas. And then in January this year, there was a national leadership forum meeting in which the contours of the process were discussed including, for example, the decision to reserve 30 per cent of the seats for women. That was not an international community decision. That was a Somali decision.

And then in April this year, there was a confirmation that there would be an upper house as well as a lower house and the numbers around those. So really, it has been a Somali process.

UN News Centre: How do you feel the process is going so far? Are expectations for women’s representation being met?

Michael Keating: With regard to women, I suppose the most positive thing has been that a number of states have elected two women to the upper house starting with Galmudug which elected two of the eight upper house seats, elected two women. And even though its going to be tough to meet the 30 per cent target, the fact that we have well over 20 per cent women representation in the upper house, its defying the cynics and pessimists fears that the percentage of women in 2016 will be even lower than 2012. So the challenge now is to try and make sure that the lower house includes women. And that really is about getting the clans to agree a basis upon which seats will be allocated to women in the lower house.

UN News Centre: Do you have concerns about the process?

Michael Keating: There have been issues, for example, like securing the locations. We’re working very closely with African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces. That’s an issue. The safety of the delegates. There are concerns about how the money systems will go. I think we have solved now the basis upon which delegates will receive stipends, the basis upon which vendors such as travel companies and hotel owners will be paid. There are issues around supporting the bodies that are conducting the process.

The United Nations has been engaged with Somalia since 1991 to support its government and people to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation, and the international community has pledged to support Somalia in its efforts, including through the so-called “New Deal” Somalia Compact, which sets out agreed goals for peacebuilding and statebuilding. Shown here, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia at the time of the 2012 parliamentary process, Augustine Mahiga (centre), congratulates the incoming representatives. AU-UN IST Photo/ Stuart Price.

UN News Centre: There are varying opinions on the role that elders are playing in the electoral process. Can you explain what their role is and how it was decided that they would be part of the process?

Michael Keating: The main difference between 2016 and 2012 of course is that in 2012, 135 elders chose the 275 Members of Parliament. Now this time it’s a hybrid in which the elders continue to have a very important role because in the Lower House they are choosing the delegates; the 51 members of each electoral college that will elect one Members of Parliament. So they’re still very important but clearly their influence has been diluted because instead of one elder choosing roughly two Members of Parliament presumably on the basis of consultation within the clan, sub-clan, the sub sub-clan, now people who want to be MPs not only have to be on good terms with elders but they have to persuade the 51 delegates that they are the right person to represent that sub sub-clan.

UN News Centre: There are concerns about the credibility of the process, specifically concerns about vote buying and bribes. How is the process supposed to remain credible?

Michael Keating: Vote buying and bribes are a reality. We know there’s a lot of money changing hands. You just read the Somali media. I think the important thing is that the voting, when it actually takes place, is secret, that there are no cell phones for example for people to take photos on how they voted and ultimately that moment you put your mark against a candidate’s name and put it in the box that’s a very secret moment and the results will be instantly communicated. So even though a lot of money may change hands up to that point, there will be no way for those who are buying votes or selling votes to know whether an individual has voted in the way he/she said they would. So that’s quite interesting. In other words we can put in place safeguards to not undermine but certainly that mitigate the influence of money in determining in the Lower House who gets elected as an Members of Parliament.

UN News Centre: Is the 2016 process really better than 2012?

Michael Keating: It’s early to say. But already I would argue this because it’s taking place in five or six places around the country. We’ve got much more active political environment, we’ve got women being pretty active, we’ve got youth groups mobilized, we have these ad hoc institutions like the Federal Indirect Electoral Implementation Team (FIEIT), the State Indirect Electoral Implementation Team (SIEIT), the electoral dispute resolution body in place. You’ve got very high levels of international interest. We have a code of conduct, we have international observers. So I would argue that the architecture around this electoral process is in finitely more robust than it was in 2012.