Parliament sworn in but further delays for the Presidential election

The former Speaker of the previous parliament, Mohamed Sheikh Osman ‘Jawari', officiated at an inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's new Parliament, the tenth in the country's history, on Tuesday this week (December 27) at the General Kahiye Police Academy.  Security was tight throughout Mogadishu as 242 members of the House of the People and 43 members of the new Upper House, the Senate, took the oath of allegiance. This left 32 members of the House of the People to be sworn in either because their elections have yet to take place or because they were disputed. Once all the remaining seats are filled, the parliament will have a total complement of 347 legislators, though those already sworn-in are enough to elect a president. The new date for the presidential election announced early this week is January 24, 2017

Senior government officials including Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, and Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arte attended the ceremony. Former Speaker ‘Jawari' called the occasion "a milestone in the history of Somalia." He said: "We are witnessing a new set of parliamentarians taking over from others. I want to take this opportunity to salute parliamentarians who have been re-elected. This is a huge responsibility bestowed on you by your constituents, and it is a vote of confidence."  The AU Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia, Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira, congratulated the Federal Government of Somalia, the regional states and the people of Somalia, upon the key milestone of the inauguration of the 10th Somalia Federal Parliament. He said: "The inauguration of the new Parliament today is not only symbolic of the progress that Somalia is making but also attests to what is achievable when people choose unity in diversity, agree to compromise for the common good and with determination agree to pull together to fight the enemies of peace and stability in Somalia."

A statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday (December 28) also welcomed the inauguration of new federal parliament of Somalia, while urging the parliament to maintain the momentum to complete the electoral process. In a statement Mr. Ban asked the parliament to tackle urgent legislative priorities, including establishing a permanent Constitution of Somalia. He also called on the authorities to quickly fill all remaining vacant seats in the parliament and ensure that women filled the seats reserved for women. "Any irregularity, abuse, or malpractice reported by the federal and state electoral bodies should be fully addressed to preserve the credibility of the process," he added.

Earlier, after the National Leadership Forum issued a communiqué at the end of its latest ten-day meeting (December 15-24), international community representatives in Somalia issued a joint statement on Monday (December 27). This said they were "gravely" concerned about the course of the elections, specifically about some of the most recent decisions of the Forum. The statement said: "International partners strongly believe that elections must be re-run for seats where the voting outcomes were clearly distorted by violence, corruption, intimidation, the unauthorized substitution of electoral college delegates and a failure to set aside one of every three seats for exclusively female candidates. " It went on: "If these candidates are allowed to take their seats in Somalia's tenth parliament, it will bring into question the NLF's expressed commitment to the principles of accountability and credibility that underpin the entire process. It will also undermine the electoral code of conduct signed by all parliamentary candidates in the spirit of leveling the playing field and ensuring the delivery of a credible process."

The National Leadership Forum meeting, chaired by President Mohamud, included former Parliamentary Speaker, Mohamed Sheikh Osman ‘Jawari,' Prime Minister Sharmarke and Deputy Prime Minister Muhamed Omar Arte, and the Presidents of Puntland, Jubaland, South West, Galmadug and Hir-Shabelle as well as the Electoral Dispute Resolution Mechanism. Its communiqué on December 24 announced a new date for the presidential election - January 24, 2017. Assuming there is no further delay, the members of the new parliament will select the new president from the twenty or so candidates. However, the communiqué introduced some new elements into the process, including 18 more seats for the Senate. After listening to the complaints from some Federal Member States and clans, which did not get representation in the Senate, the Forum increased the number of seats, three for each of the states. These will be nominated by the Presidents of the Regional States, and approved through a Federal Presidential Decree. The provisional constitution only allows for 54 Senators, and the addition requires parliamentary amendment. There has been considerable criticism of this including a statement from six of the candidates for the presidency. On Thursday this week the Forum announced any change in the number of Senate seats would only take place after the presidential election.

Another major area of discussion for the Forum was over disputed results. The Forum held several meetings with the Federal Indirect Electoral Implementation Team and the Electoral Dispute Resolution Mechanism. The Mechanism had earlier announced that it had received over 1,200 complaints over the electoral processes. It originally wanted to nullify 24 results, but then reduced the number to eleven. After further examination of the complaints and consideration of additional information, the Forum decided that "the public interest was in mitigating disputes and further squabbles that could potentially arise from revising the electoral results", and that the Mechanism's results should be reviewed and that all candidates whose political rights to participate in the elections were suspended should participate in the electoral contests.

The international community representatives had warned last week that if the seats that were viewed as most contentious were not included in the list of seats to be re-contested, this could undermine the credibility of the electoral process and of the future government. In a joint statement on Wednesday (December 21), the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Ethiopia, Italy, Sweden, Britain and the United States called on the National Leadership Forum to work with the Independent Electoral Dispute Resolution Mechanism to ensure accountability for electoral abuse. The statement emphasized that the IEDRM had a responsibility to make public the criteria used to exclude some seats and include others on the list of those that should be re-run. It emphasized to the National Leadership Forum and the IEDRM that the gravity of the irregularities uncovered should be the basis for determining whether electoral results should be nullified and re-contested. It said that failure to take action against serious electoral abuses would have implications for the legitimacy of the government that emerged from the electoral process and, consequently, for its relationship with the international community. Michael Keating, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Somalia said: "Any attempt to gloss over the irregularities that plagued some of the voting will not only affect the acceptability of the outcome of the electoral process and compromise the legitimacy of the anticipated new government, but also play into the hands of spoilers and violent extremists bent on discrediting a process that has already achieved greater inclusiveness and more women's representation in Somali politics."

In fact, observers point out that despite all the problems, the process has been an improvement over previous ‘elections." In 2012, a parliament of a single house voted for the president; this time it will be a vote of two houses of parliament and a considerably larger electorate. In 2009 the election had to be held in Djibouti for security reasons, and in 2012 the lower house voting only took place in Mogadishu. This time, the electoral processes have taken place in the federal state capitals. While the efforts of the Federal Interim Electoral Implementation Team and the IEDRM to nullify some contests have met with opposition, their actions showed the ability of federal institutions to respond to misconduct. Equally, while it is true that the quota for women of 30% has not been fully achieved (the final figure is more likely to be 25% or so), there is no doubt that most of the states have made a real effort to increase the representation of women in Parliament. So far, parliament includes 73 women lawmakers.