Challenges in Somali National Election Legislation

The Somali national election law reflects a chaotic amalgamation of incompatible elements from various election systems, including dictatorial, parliamentary, and presidential models, presenting challenges to the country’s democratic process. Despite the repeated assurances from the Somali president and prime minister promising a transition to a popular vote system for the upcoming election, recent legislative actions have introduced a confusing set of election laws, blending multiple systems.

Although the parliament unanimously agreed to adopt a presidential system with a president and vice prime minister, the implemented election laws predominantly align with the constitutional parliamentary system. This discrepancy between legislative intent and practical application creates a stark contrast with the strategic plans announced by the president and prime minister, causing confusion among the populace and raising questions about the government’s commitment to electoral reform.

Somalia has a long history grappled with parliamentary system elections tainted by political corruption, including vote buying and rigging in favor of those who paid the highest bid, who often are the former or incumbent government leaders. The prospect of transitioning to a presidential election system, with its promise of empowering individual voters, was met with widespread relief by the people. Unlike parliamentary elections, where power often falls into the hands of corrupt clan elders, biased election commissioners, and foreign influences, a presidential system returns power to the will of the people by placing authority in the hands of the electorate.

Should the election processes deviate from the planned transition to a democratic system, favoring manipulations and corruption, both the president and prime minister will risk losing credibility, while political oppositions exploiting the corrupt system will gain ground. Despite attempts to create a hybrid election law, the result undermines the genuine will of the people, who seek to elect their leaders directly rather than through clan-based legislative selections or leaders chosen by corrupt elders. In such a scenario, political opposition groups, exploiting flaws in the electoral system, will further undermine stability, legitimacy, and the well-being of the country’s political course.

The Somali legislature election law should grasp to maintain the fundamental difference between parliamentary and presidential election systems that predominantly differentiate the way executive power is structured and exercised.

In a parliamentary system, the executive power of the government derives its legitimacy from the legislative branch of the parliament. The head of government, often called the Prime Minister, is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the parliament. During parliamentary elections, voters typically vote for a political party, rather than directly for a specific individual for the head of government. The party that wins the majority of seats in the parliament or can form a coalition with other parties then selects the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are accountable to the parliament, and the government remains in power as long as it maintains the support of the majority of the parliament members. If the government loses a vote of no confidence or if it fails to pass important legislation, it may be replaced through a new election or by the formation of a new government.

Conversely, in a presidential system, the executive branch of the government is separate from the legislative branch. The head of state and head of government is the President, who is elected directly by the citizens in a separate presidential election. During presidential elections, voters directly choose between individual candidates running for the presidency. The candidate who receives the majority of votes becomes the President. The President has a fixed term in office and is not directly accountable to the legislative branch in the same way as in a parliamentary system. However, there are often checks and balances in place, such as a bicameral legislature or judicial oversight, to ensure the balance of power between the branches of government.

In conclusion, the discrepancies between legislative intent and practical application of election laws pose significant challenges to Somalia’s democratic aspirations. Whether due to deception or external pressures, the deviation from promised electoral reforms risks eroding public trust and stability. Clarity and consistency in electoral legislation are essential to uphold the integrity of Somalia’s democratic process. Anyhow, in a parliamentary system, the executive branch is intertwined with the legislative branch, and the head of government is a strong prime minister who usually is chosen from the majority party in the parliament. In a presidential system, the executive branch is separate, with a strong President elected directly by the people, and the legislative and executive branches operate independently of each other.

Dr. Said Mohamud (Sacim)
Chair of Somali Peoples Party

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