By Barkhad Dahir
Somalilandsun — Tension continues to escalate over the registration of voters in the Somaliland region after opposition leaders warned that security could deteriorate if the general elections slated to take place next year are delayed.
In a joint statement released August 11th, the opposition coalition — comprising the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID), the Waddani Party and the Consultation Forum, a group of independent politicians — accused the government of wilfully delaying the voter registration exercise.
They said the ruling party was deliberately trying to stonewall the process and delay the parliamentary and presidential elections slated for mid-2015 in an attempt to extend the term of the Kulmiye government led by President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo.
Peace is conditional upon democracy, and democracy is threatened any time elections are postponed or exceed their timeline, the group said.
The opposition coalition called on the government to promptly replace the members of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the independent body tasked with carrying out the election, and revise rules to select new members by September 2014 in order to provide the commission adequate time to prepare for the 2015 election.
The seven members of the NEC, whose term expires this October, were appointed in 2009, with three members selected by former President Dahir Riyale Kahin, two members selected by Somaliland’s House of Elders, and the UCID and Kulmiye parties each selecting one member.
“If the elections cannot be held in their allocated time, it will be the government’s fault whose responsibility it is to hold elections in a timely manner,” the opposition parties said, also proposing that a transitional administration be formed in the event elections are not held on time.
But speaking to Sabahi, presidential spokesperson Ahmed Suleiman Dhuhul said the accusations levelled against the administration were unfounded, as the government has been working diligently to prepare for the election.
“There is no truth [to the accusations]… The three national parties and the government have been on the same page on the elections plans and had agreed upon them,” Dhuhul said.
“The administration is ready to provide and expedite anything needed to [carry out] the election and that is why the cabinet held an extraordinary meeting [last week] to pass key legislation,” he said.
Dhuhul declined, however, to comment on the opposition parties’ call for the appointment of new NEC members.
NEC, registration process scrutinised
Hargeisa-based political analyst Bashir Ismail said efforts by the opposition to disband the NEC and form it anew this late in the process would be fruitless and would certainly lead to a delayed election.
“It will be difficult to change how [NEC members] are selected because the [ruling] party has the majority in the lower house of parliament and will block any changes that give [all] parties an equal number [of representatives in the NEC],” Ismail told Sabahi.
Instead, he said, the NEC and the political parties should resolve other basic issues that have not yet been addressed and could jeopardise the election, such as reaching an agreement on whether the parliamentary and presidential elections should be held together or separately.
The president’s term ends June 26th, while parliament, which came into office in 2005 and was extended in 2009, 2010 and 2013, will complete its term July 27th. However, the NEC has not yet established how to carry-out the two elections.
For his part, Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF) Director Mohamed Ahmed Barawani said the commission should ensure all the problems that surfaced during the 2009 voter registration exercise were addressed to avoid tribal conflict.
To that endeavour, he said, it is crucial that the NEC mandate is reviewed and that all stakeholders are included in the registration process. “The public has to be educated adequately to counter tribalism issues which could hamper a transparent registration process,” he told Sabahi.
Voter registration, election plan moving forward
Despite the controversy surrounding the NEC mandate and its possible re-composition, the commission said it is committed to moving forward with voter registration plans.
“Voter registration is the bedrock of elections and elections cannot be held without it,” NEC member Abdifatah Ibrahim Sheikh Hassan told Sabahi. “There are two reasons necessitating it: it is a technical difficulty to hold elections that do not have a register and the law states that each election shall be preceded by a registration of the people who will vote.”
After conducting a mock registration in June to address any glitches, the commission posted an official tender on its website August 5th seeking private companies’ bids to supply the materials, equipment and software needed for the exercise, he said. The contract will be awarded in October and the voter registration exercise will be completed by November or December, he added.
The results of the 2009 voter registration exercise were rejected in 2011 by the Somaliland region’s parliament due to irregularities, including accusations of duplicate registrations in some provinces and the registering of ineligible voters such as underage citizens.
For better accuracy this time around, Hassan said, scans of voters’ irises will be collected during the registration process.
The writer Barkhad Dahir is a sabahionline staffer based in Hargeisa
By Barkhad Dahir