Somaliland: “Swerves on the Road” -IOE 2012 Election Report Part 3


Excerpt II The international election observation missionExercising Democratic rights

Somalilandsun – The International Election Observer-IOE Mission to the 2012 local council elections released its final report titled “Swerves on the Road” contained in 40 pages herein to be published chapter by chapter on a daily basis with a link for those readers interested in reading earlier excerpts or downloading the entire report.

Excerpt I Introduction

Excerpt II Previous election observation & Local council elections 2012

The international election observation mission

At the invitation of the NEC, and with support from DFID, the mission deployed 50 observers, including 22 women, to 15 of the 21 districts of Somaliland that held elections, and was led by Drs Steve Kibble and Michael Walls. The mission follows previous observations of elections in Somaliland in 2002, 2005 and 2010, and was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation, adopted in 2005 at the United Nations.

Observer delegates came from 17 countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States of America – with seven representatives being from Somaliland’s diaspora.

For the first time, under the aegis of the Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF), civil society representatives from south-central Somalia and Puntland were also present. Two representatives from each of the Somalia South-Central Non-State Actors Association (SOSCENSA) and Puntland Non-State Actors Association (PUNSAA) were enthusiastic and committed accompaniers of the international observer mission, studying the technical process of managing and observing an election.

On election day, international observers visited approximately 18 per cent of all polling stations, and observed polling station counts in all six regions. District tabulation processes were observed in Marodi Jeh, Sahil, Sanag and Togdheer regions.

Prior to election day, a three-person pre-election coordination team (PET), consisting of Steve Kibble, Michael Walls and Stephanie Butcher, arrived on 3 November, having liaised with Interpeace and diplomatic stakeholders in Nairobi en route. The PET’s brief was to examine all aspects of the pre-election campaign, including the fairness of the campaign itself: access by political parties

to all areas for campaigning, equal access to the media, and especially the way in which the voting system was being organised. Key concerns were the knock-on effects of the lack of voter registration. We saw that this might be compounded by new political associations and an open list system, whose implications were then untested. The issue of the very lengthy ballot papers deriving from the open list system and highlighted in the 2012 pre-election assessment report2 remained a key issue, albeit lessened by the reduction in the number of parties/associations who were ultimately permitted to contest the election.

The PET also met stakeholders, including the NEC, their Interpeace advisers, security personnel including the Special Protection Unit (SPU) commanders and the police commissioner, EU and UN representatives, media, women’s groups, local and international civil society organisations (including those involved in voter education and domestic observation), and research institutions, in order to establish how the pre-election process was going and hence assess overall progress.

We also had the honour of meeting President Silanyo and three ministers who assured the group of the government’s commitment to free, fair and peaceful elections. In addition, we requested meetings with the leadership of all the competing political parties and associations, and met those who responded. PET members met representatives of all parties/associations at some stage prior to the election, although in some instances the leaders themselves were not available.

The PET also sought clarity on the security situation (including but not confined to the safety of IEOs), the nature and identity of electoral monitoring bodies, the degree to which there was evidence of use of state resources by incumbents, the proposed geographical distribution of polling stations, and the preparedness of polling station staff and party agents, as well as of domestic observers. The team recruited a media consultant to track the performance of the press in covering important issues, and to report to us, as had happened in previous elections, on evidence of any political bias. This is covered in greater detail in the section on the media later in this report.

Initial observations

The PET made a number of initial observations and was apprised of a range of concerns, primarily from the political parties/associations. Some of these were resolved before election day. Firstly

the team noted that, as had been the case in prior elections, parties/associations were allocated a specific campaigning day each week, a provision which was largely adhered to in the first week of the campaign. Secondly, unlike in previous elections, parties agreed with the NEC to suspend public campaigning for the second and third weeks of the campaign in an effort to discourage what was seen as the over-exuberance and dangerous behaviour of some campaigners. From our observation, this suspension was not always completely adhered to, though it resulted in a more subdued campaign until the last (fourth) week of campaigning, when there was a marked return to the exuberance of the first week. Political parties and associations generally accepted the need for the ban, with some noting that the suspension helped alleviate funding problems arising from what was a very expensive campaign byWadani Supporters at a rally in Hargeisa Somaliland standards.

For a time, what appeared to be a more serious threat to the stability of the elections, and to popular participation, arose in western Burao and parts of Sanag. The complaint was that in those areas the number of polling stations had been unfairly reduced from the level of previous elections. Distribution of polling stations had been planned on the basis of voting turnout in the presidential elections of 2010, which had been lower in those areas than had been the case in other elections. This problem was resolved on 16 November when all parties met with the NEC and donors and agreed a solution. Essentially, the affected polling stations were to be equipped with an extra ballot box and two extra polling station staff, thus ensuring that the number of ballots available in each area would be approximately consistent with past elections.

In some areas, the Umadda political association complained of harassment by police, alleging that some candidates were arrested while campaigning, and then released once their campaign day had ended. It appeared that, while some candidates were indeed detained, all were quickly released. In each case, the police offered explanations as to the reason for the arrest. Whether this amounted to political harassment was difficult to determine.

Most of the continuing problems highlighted in this and in a pre-election report relate to the complexity of the process in which a historically high number of parties/associations would compete and where those were to be whittled down to three official parties. Law 14 Article 6, which is the relevant legal instrument for the calculation of successful parties, was not widely understood and had been subject to claims it was badly drafted. In spite of this, the Academy for Peace and Development, a local non-governmental research institute and think tank, spent quite some time with the RAC clarifying the law, and they were able to agree a simple formula to be used in applying the law. In the end, the RAC was able to identify which of the political associations were to be declared political parties, and thus accorded the right to contest parliamentary and presidential elections over the subsequent decade.

Numbers rather than symbols were used on ballot papers and some political representatives spoke to us of concerns over how the illiterate would cope. In the end, we did not observe this to be a major concern inside polling stations, perhaps in part for the reason offered by one commentator: most Somalis use mobile phones, so even the illiterate are usually able to recognise numerals. Evidence on the ground showed that in the pre-election campaigning, and indeed on election day, candidate numbers and the cards containing that information were widely used as a central part of candidate and party/association promotion.

With the lowering of the age of candidacy to 26, we welcomed the unprecedented numbers

of youth, which had the knock-on effect of increasing women candidates. Although persistent barriers and prejudices remain, the number of women candidates contesting seats signalled a marked positive step towards better representation of the entire population of Somaliland, even if an unfortunately low number of women candidates succeeded in securing election.

Article 6 of Law 14

As one observer phrased it, this election could be described as ‘one election, two outcomes’, with a key division of labour lying between the NEC and RAC. The NEC was responsible for all aspects

of the election until the announcement of results, at which point the RAC was required to calculate and declare the three successful political parties permitted under the constitution. This process is defined by Article 6 of Law 14. A great deal of debate focused on this mechanism and, as noted, the Academy for Peace and Development spent a lot of time with the RAC clarifying the issue and then suggesting and agreeing with the RAC a simple formula for the final calculation. The RAC had no mandate to interpret the laws; only to apply them.

Simply put, any association/party that received 20 per cent or more in every region was automatically to be deemed one of the three political parties. The winner, had there been several with 20 per cent or more in each region, was to be the one with the highest percentage overall.

If no party or association achieved 20 per cent or more in all regions, the three highest ranked A Young Haqsoor supporterparties/associations in each region were to be ranked and accorded scores of 1, 2 or 3 (with 1 for the most popular party/association in that region, and so on). This scoring process would then be repeated through the other five regions. The party/association with the lowest aggregate score was then to be declared the top qualifying party, with those with the next two lowest aggregate scores taking the second and third spots. These were then to be declared by the RAC to be the three political parties permitted to contest parliamentary and presidential elections for the next 10 years.

We remained concerned that problems could arise if parties received unequal support across regions but built up large numbers of votes in total. We also thought it likely that no party/ association would achieve 20 per cent or more in every region, thus placing even heavier emphasis on the Academy for Peace and Development formula, which had of course been devised as part of an extra-judicial process. The Supreme Court was on standby to rule on such issues. While the electoral provisions are reasonably clear, we remained worried that they were not widely understood by the public, or, in some instances, by politicians themselves.

The mission was also concerned that only two of the four staff in each polling station would receive training, with these staff then being required to train the others. We made some early recommendations to address this.

Another concern raised related to the fact that winning candidates from losing associations would not be able to maintain their party/association affiliation or serve as independent councillors. Instead, they would be required to transfer their affiliation to one of the three winning parties. In the event, these transfers took place through mergers of unsuccessful political associations with successful parties – a process that occurred on the whole more smoothly than we had anticipated.

The conflicts possible were obvious and where clan, party and individual preference overlap, we saw this as a possible minefield. However, we trusted that there were a number of factors that might mitigate against such problems. Most importantly, Somalilanders have long demonstrated a strong commitment to resolving problems peacefully, even when the stakes are high.

It was also encouraging that all the parties/associations signed up to a Code of Conduct detailing the process by which Article 6 was to be applied. Worryingly, though, some parties subsequently threatened to contest the results regardless of the fact that they had signed the Code of Conduct. In one case, a political leader even threatened to promote insurrection regardless of the outcome with respect to his own party.

Two political associations were unable to stand candidates in every district. In one case (Rays) they did not contest six of the districts. This did not automatically disqualify them from the possibility of securing one of the three party spaces, but it did made the task more difficult, given the agreed formula.

Other concerns

The local independent press (The Republican, Vol 13 Issue 708) carried a story in November 2012 regarding public servants using state resources for campaigning purposes and the NEC’s reaction to this. Previously President Silanyo had called for public servants to desist from such campaigning and from the use of national resources for party purposes (we obtained a copy of the decree to that effect from the President himself, although we originally had difficulty tracking it down). The

President, ministers and leaders of the governing Kulmiye party vigorously denied allegations of use of state funds when we met them, although a number of allegations had been made by opposition parties and associations. Some of this dispute revolved around the definition of a civil servant. Ministers and political appointees are generally allowed to campaign, whereas civil servants are not.

The most significant controversy surrounded the head of the Somaliland National AIDS Commission, who was campaigning for the governing party. Government members mounted a strong defence on the basis that he was a political appointee, whereas others counter-charged with the apparently reasonable argument that such a position should more properly be seen as a non-political appointment. In our opinion, greater clarity on the position of those in parastatals and commissions is needed. We also raised the question of candidates from parties not aligned with the government being arrested, although the government line was that much of this was

due to intra-clan battles and that arrests were due to violations of the Code of Conduct, including campaigning on unauthorised days. As a political agreement rather than a statutory instrument, the Code of Conduct did not appear to invite arrest or criminal prosecution, a situation that we also felt requires greater clarity.

The leadership of two parties (including one of the political associations which had already been unable to stand candidates in all districts) alleged that some of their candidates had been offered government jobs or other incentives to resign from their parties. In a number of instances, we were able to corroborate that the candidates involved had indeed resigned. These allegations are of corruption/bribery only, not intimidation or other threats. Again we put this to the President and a number of ministers, and their reply was that it would be beyond their financial capacity to try to suborn opposition candidates, that they had no interest in doing so, and that crossing the political floor is very common in Somaliland. After the election this issue appeared to have died down, but it may be that further investigation would still be helpful. Later, some of the candidates who had stood down announced in press conferences that support from their own parties/associations had not been forthcoming, and therefore they were unable to contest the election due to a lack of resources.

Civil society and youth

Civil society had a number of election-related initiatives, although some seemed fitful. Some were sectoral, such as SONYO’s (Somaliland National Youth Organisation) programme on youth engagement in the political process. The chief programme was the Somaliland Civil Society Election Forum (SCISEF) run by SONSAF, an NGO coalition of non-state actors. A major problem they identified was the large number of parties, pointing out that most candidates were going to lose.

SCISEF was present in all six regions through coordination committees, and sought to monitor party adherence to the Code of Conduct. In order to avoid aggravating tensions, they pointed out explicitly that many candidates would simply be unsuccessful, but that they should respect

the outcome nonetheless. They expressed concerns over women and youth candidates, which are outlined in the next section, and noted the absence of a voter registration system. They also pointed to a number of deficient areas and confusing issues: the use of numbers rather than symbols; the lack of an effective voter education programme; poor electoral facilities; the possibility of multiple voting; clannism; candidate inexperience; and porous regional borders and hence security dangers and room for dispute over whether all voters were legitimate.

Ultimately, SCISEF placed 800 observers across all six regions, giving approximately 50 per cent coverage of the 1,782 polling stations – a 15 per cent increase on the coverage achieved in 2010. It should be noted that most domestic election observers, unlike IEOs, remained in the polling station from opening to closing, although there were also a small number of mobile domestic teams.

Ballot boxesOn election day, SCISEF monitored compliance of parties with the electoral law, including whether unauthorised people were present in polling stations/centres, and whether there was any violence or political campaigning. IEOs and domestic observers cooperated with a view to complementing rather than overlapping each other where possible. Most local observers remained in their posts inside polling stations throughout the day. For future elections, it may be advisable for domestic observers to include observation of the external environs of polling stations in their role, as irregularities are just as likely to occur in the station surrounds, as international observers noted in, for example, Hargeisa, Borama and Erigavo.

According to SCISEF, youth were well represented as candidates, especially in the east, where lower population density and diminished levels of interest in the electoral process amongst older generations allowed greater space for youth involvement. SCISEF were aware of the problems for youth in finding money to stand or campaign, and saw the consequent dependence on others for funding as a possible problem. They thought that women and youth were the two most exploited groups, used by politicians for clan purposes and then marginalised.

The Academy for Peace and Development and International Republican Institute trained 5,500 agents covering about half of the proposed polling stations. Given donor refusal to pay agents we were concerned as to whether they would be deployed widely and whether they would be

effective, but again this fear was largely allayed on polling day. We noted that there was no longer a legal requirement for party agents to sign off on the polling station tally, although we believe that step remained useful where it was practised, as a further form of checking (along with finger marking) the vigilance of polling station staff.

There were also a number of apparent problems associated with voter education. Firstly, it seemed there was no overarching national voter education process, apart from NEC advertising on TV, radio and mobile phones. There were some individual NGO and donor initiatives, including what seemed to be separate projects promoting voter education for women, which could surely have formed a key part of the general voter education programme. SONSAF was expected to ‘fill the

gaps’ in voter education, and we were concerned that this might prove a more difficult challenge if the more coordinated voter education programmes concentrated too heavily on technical aspects of the election, as seemed to be planned.


The issue of women’s political participation has been hotly debated for some years, and remains a difficult one. Female candidates have struggled to gain the support of their clans to stand in the first place, and where they have pressed ahead, few have been elected.3 During campaigning for the 2010 election, the leadership of Kulmiye, who ultimately won, promised a quota of 25 per cent for female candidates in forthcoming elections. Campaigners lobbied hard for implementation of this quota, and the new President Silanyo convened a Presidential Consultative Council to look into the matter. After much consultation, and promising noises, a much lower quota of 15 per cent was proposed. The overwhelmingly male House of Representatives, including many from the governing party, voted against the proposed bill.4 Activists remain passionate about improving the representation of women and were dismayed that male parliamentarians refused to vote for the President’s proposal.

Despite this legal setback, there was evidence of a high level of political activity undertaken by women. Women qeue to voteImportantly, an earlier stage of campaigning saw the establishment of a political association headed by a woman. While this association subsequently failed to qualify to stand

as one of the seven parties/associations eligible to contest the local elections, it arguably marked an important space for the organisation and mobilisation of women activists. (The same woman who attempted to establish that political association had attempted to run for the Somaliland presidency in 2003, and was also unsuccessful in standing then. She has since declared herself disillusioned with the Somaliland political process, and has taken a senior political position in Mogadishu instead, so progress is qualified at best.)

Nevertheless, the number of female candidates – 140 out of 2,368 – did represent a vast improvement on the five who stood in the 2002 council elections. Many of these 140 candidates were highly visible in campaign posters and paraphernalia, and party leaders were quick

to reference the role of women in their association, suggesting a clear recognition, at least rhetorically, of the importance of women’s political participation. NAGAAD, the umbrella organisation working to support women’s empowerment, played a significant and important role in working to train and support these candidates, collaborating in the civic education programme, lobbying for the quota system, and documenting campaign promises in support of increased political participation for women.

Women were likewise present in other parts of the electoral process. They formed a majority presence on campaign days and at rallies, and turned out in high numbers for polling day. The IEO team observed the fair and equal treatment of both sexes in polling stations, and a relatively good gender balance amongst polling station staff.

However, while recognising these successes, it is important to note that only 10 women secured seats in local councils, underlining the importance of continued campaigning for measures to support women’s political participation. While women were highly visible throughout the electoral process, the continued mobilisation along kinship lines may generate barriers to participation

in political institutions, particularly if other institutional safeguards, such as quotas, are not established.5 NAGAAD has identified a number of social barriers to women’s political participation, noting the continued reluctance of many community elders to accept female candidates, as well

as the financial burden of running for a seat. Similarly, though there was a significant increase in female candidates, they did not generally rank amongst senior party/association leadership.

NAGAAD has been involved in training, campaigning and advocacy for all women candidates as well as a wider, DFID-funded programme of voter education designed to reach 216,000 people, which has the promotion of women’s participation as a key objective. While these measures are important, and the 2012 elections did demonstrate a gradually increasing space for women’s participation, stronger formal and informal institutional commitments are also needed if women are to play a greater role in future elections.


The PET held a number of security-related meetings, including with the Commander of the SPU, the counter-terrorism officer, the Commissioner of Police, and the NEC security consultant, and raised security issues with many others. Repeatedly, we were informed that intelligence reports indicated no significant or new threat in relation to the safety of voters, election officials or observers. For most parts of Somaliland, the vigilance of the local population, as in the past, including during the 2005 and 2010 elections, constituted in our opinion the best defence against deliberate attempts to disrupt the election.

However, while we feel this view was borne out across most of Somaliland, areas in which sovereignty is disputed must be excepted at least to some degree. In the days preceding the election, Puntland authorities declared that any attempt to place polling stations in areas claimed by Puntland would be seen as an infringement of their sovereignty. In the event, Puntland militia moved to prevent the NEC from siting polling stations in specific locations close to the border in Sanag – specifically the towns of Dhahar and Badhan. Khatuumo forces also moved to prevent voting from taking place in towns under their control, and most particularly their self-declared capital of Taleex. Also, in the run-up to the election, Khatuumo-affiliated individuals ambushed the convoy of a member of the Xaqsoor political association, briefly holding him, before releasing him after intervention from elders.

Local concerns also led to tensions in Erigavo, with protests on the eve of election day delaying the distribution of ballot boxes to areas in and surrounding the town, and a consequent delay in the start of voting in a number of locations in Sanag.

These incidents were clearly serious, though in line with and slightly less extensive than had been the case in recent past elections. The period after the election was also beset by tensions, which flared at times into violence. Those incidents and the underlying causes are reviewed later in this report.

While the full report shall be published chapter by chapter on a daily basis interested readers can down load the full report “SWERVES ON THE ROAD” AS SOMALILAND CONTINUES TO DRIVE ITS DEVELOPING DEMOCRACY FORWARD here