By KEVIN J KELLEY
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Members of Somalia’s new federal Parliament place their hands on copies of the Koran as they are sworn in at the General Kahiye Academy in Mogadishu on December 27, 2016. PHOTO | MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB | AFP
The African Union, United Nations and leading Western countries said in an unusual joint statement on Tuesday that they are “gravely concerned” about Somalia’s electoral process.
Rather than celebrating the inauguration of Somalia’s Federal Parliament on Tuesday, the 10 signers of the joint declaration urged Somali leaders to rescind several election-related decisions they announced last Saturday.
“International partners believe that the integrity of the 2016 electoral process hangs in the balance,” declared the statement endorsed by East Africa’s Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the United States, European Union and five individual European countries, along with the AU and UN.
The global group challenging the electoral process wields great influence in Somalia. The AU sponsors the Amisom force battling Al-Shabaab militants, while the UN, US and EU have each devoted considerable resources to a decades-long effort to stabilise Somalia.
Tuesday’s statement took strong issue with Somali leaders’ refusal to order re-runs of voting for all 24 parliamentary seats that election officials had previously flagged as involving flagrant abuses, including violence, corruption and intimidation.
By permitting new votes for only five of those seats, Somali leaders are initiating what amounts to “a blanket amnesty for some of the most blatant irregularities witnessed during this electoral process,” the AU, UN and the other critics said.
The Somali leaders’ move “contravenes the Federal Government’s solemn commitment to respect the rule of law,” the statement added. “The principles of accountability and credibility that underpin the entire process” are also being jeopardised, the regional, national and international observers warned.
Somali leaders’ actions further risk violating an agreement to set aside one of every three parliamentary seats for female candidates, the statement noted.
NEW FEDERAL PARLIAMENT
The group also objected to last week’s decision to increase the number of seats in Parliament’s Upper House to 75 from the total of 54 stipulated in Somalia’s Provisional Constitution.
“Any further expansion of the Upper House should only be contemplated after the presidential vote has been held in the new federal parliament and implemented through a proper constitutional process,” the statement said.
The presidential vote, originally supposed to take place in August and subsequently postponed three times, now appears likely to be re-scheduled again to sometime next month.
The international group urged that an election timetable be issued “as soon as possible.”
“There is a particular need to conclude the process swiftly in light of the UN Security Council’s upcoming meeting on Somalia that is scheduled for 19 January 2017,” the statement said.
The federal president and the speakers and deputy speakers of the new parliament are to be chosen exclusively by MPs, not by a vote of the Somali people.
The members of Parliament were themselves selected by 14,025 delegates in a country with an estimated population of 11 million. The delegates had in turn been chosen by a set of 135 clan elders.