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The urgent need for democratic state-level elections in Somalia

April 16, 2024 at 2:05 pm

Ballots are counted following elections at Mogadishu’s in the Somalia capital on 15 May, 2022 [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

In the turbulent aftermath of conflict, Somalia is at a crucial juncture. The need for democratic consolidation is paramount, as the country could either strengthen its nascent democratic structures or obliterate the painstaking gains made over the past decade. Central to this challenge is the pressing need for the Federal Government of Somalia to deliver state-level elections, particularly in federal member states where constitutional mandates have lapsed and autocratic inclinations thrive.

The overdue elections in states such as the South West State not only jeopardise the delicate democratic progress Somalia has achieved painstakingly, but also highlight a broader crisis of governance that could destabilise the entire region. The continuation of power by state leaders whose constitutional mandates have expired, undercuts the legitimacy of governance. This is exemplified by the situation in South West State, where the term of the regime and its incumbent President, Abdiasis Laftagaren, ended in December 2022. Yet, he remains in power, having manipulated the constitution to extend his tenure, thereby stifling political dissent and perpetuating his rule through intimidation and coercion.

This usurpation of power is a blatant affront to democratic norms and a grievous violation of the social contract between the government and the governed.

It not only erodes the rule of law, but also deepens the democratic deficit in a country striving to rebuild itself. The action of such a regime, which unilaterally amended the constitution to serve the president’s purposes and extended his mandate, is antithetical to the principles of democratic governance and undermines the foundations of a stable state.

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The call for action from a broad coalition of society in South West State — comprising traditional elders, civil society groups, youth, women, the business sector and academics — is a clarion call that the Federal Government of Somalia cannot afford to ignore. These voices articulate a collective aspiration for democratic renewal and a rejection of autocratic rule. They underscore the necessity for the federal government to lead by example, honouring President Dr Hassan Sheikh’s commitment to eschew oppression and uphold democratic ideals.

To reinvigorate democracy in Somalia, the federal government must take decisive steps to ensure that state-level elections are conducted without delay and in a manner that is free, fair and inclusive. This involves creating an electoral environment where all stakeholders, including political parties, civil society and international observers, can participate openly and without fear of reprisal.

Ensuring that these elections occur is not merely a procedural necessity but a fundamental requirement to restore faith in the political system and to set Somalia on a sustainable path towards peace and prosperity. It is also critical for the international community, which has invested considerable resources in Somalia’s reconstruction, to support these democratic processes and hold those who seek to derail them accountable.

The Federal Government of Somalia stands at a crossroads. It can either pave the way for genuine democratic governance by facilitating timely and transparent elections in its federal member states, or allow the continuation of despotic rule that saps the spirit of democracy. For the sake of its citizens and their democratic aspirations, the choice should be clear. The time for action is now.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.