Somaliland’s fledgling democracy has met many serious obstacles since the very first municipal elections that were held in December 2002. The peak of these obstacles was the deep political crisis that resulted as a delay of the presidential elections. This dispute was so deep rooted that for the first time in Somaliland’s history a solution came only after international mediation arrived at the 11th hour from both the Ethiopian and British foreign ministries. As a result, Somaliland’s tradition of solving their own problems and putting their own house through traditional elders and mediation suffered a blow for the first time.
The political impasse seems to have settled down for the time being but it can flare up at any moment because up to now no date has been set for the elections and even worse the irregularities of the voter registration system have not yet been corrected. This brings us to the question of how we can avoid political instability in the future and whether the current constitutional law allowing the winning party of a presidential election to hold power for a five year term is viable.
This five year term policy has only contributed to Somaliland’s problems because the ruling political party has had five years to consolidate power. We have seen with the incumbent Udub’s seven years in office how one political party will perpetually hold on to political power well past their 5 year term. But Udub alone is not to blame and it is a fact that the two opposition parties Kulmiye and Ucid never gave the government a chance to work and started their policy of destructive criticism immediately after the Udub party won the elections in 2003 and even tried to mobilize a hasty impeachment act against the president after he had served only 2 years as president.
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I strongly believe that a system of rotational presidency with each party holding office for a period of two or at the most three years is the only viable solution that can steer Somaliland out of the risks of a conflict that may arise as a result of presidential elections. A system of rotational presidency would make all political parties content, make them all feel included and at the same time contribute to an indivisible Somaliland.
I am in no way suggesting that Somalilanders are not sophisticated enough to practice democracy with a one man one vote system. Parliamentary elections and municipal elections should be held just as they have been for the past and the political parties would have the chance to display their support among the masses during such elections despite a system of rotational presidency. At the same time the Guurti or house of elders would still exist as the second chamber of parliament.
Some critics would suggest that such a system of rotational presidency alongside parliamentary and municipal elections is not the ”truest form of democracy.” But, rotational presidency is not undemocratic it is rather an all accommodating democracy. A nation is qualified to be called a democracy if it respects agreed rules and procedures. Switzerland provides a good reference point for analysis on the subject of rotational presidency. Switzerland, a small nation though it operates a system of “collective presidency” in which leadership is rotated annually. Yet Switzerland is one of the world’s most democratic and stable nations. The only difference is that Switzerland’s rotational presidency is based on rotation between the 6 cantoons (provinces) that make up the country, some of which speak different languages: French, German and Italian. However, in Somaliland it would be more ideal to base it on political parties rather than regions in order to counter the tribal/clan factor since every region is inhabited by certain clans.
Rotational presidency would regulate a system whereby all political parties would feel inclusive with each party knowing that they have at the most 6 years until they too are in office. As a result, both the party in office and the others not in office at the time would be obliged to work together closely. It would redesign the political equation of the country so that no party would be left out in the wilderness and eliminate the risk of one political party having the chance to monopolize the leadership of Somaliland and especially the presidency. At the same time we would no longer have the current unethical politics of “ku jiq sii” which is nothing but political sabotage by all the three parties.
The current system of presidential elections of every five years has only divided the country deeply along party lines and endangered the country’s stability on two occasions: first during the disputed presidential elections of 2003 and later in the aftermath of the delayed elections that were scheduled to be held in 2009. The harsh truth we have to accept and bear in mind is that presidential elections just has not worked well for Somaliland. With the current system and status quo we will always have the curse of an incumbent government trying to cling on to power by hook or crook even well past their five year mandate and on the other side opposition parties that feel alienated and frustrated.
In contrast to this, the political vision of rotational presidency in general emphasizes more of a politics of representation. In this case, the focus is to ensure that the different political parties in the country all have an equal chance to occupy the executive branch of government. It is believed that representation touches a sensitive aspect of human life, which relates to some basic human pride, guaranteeing a sense of belonging. In Somaliland’s case rotational presidency would bring the political parties more together in the spirit of team work and cooperation and thus lead to a solid unity within the country. Moreover such a system would ensure that the party which is the underdog in parliament would have the chance to demonstrate good governance during their two year term and this could give them a chance to increase their parliamentary seats during parliamentary elections.
I am sure that critics would say that our constitution does not stipulate a system of rotational presidency but politics is about pragmatism and such a change in the constitution would be held as a referendum and set before the people to give their verdict. I am also aware that some would argue that a system of rotational presidency amongst the political parties alongside an elected parliament and house of elders has never existed before. To them I would say that even the greatest democracies in the world today for example the U.S.A. evolved and enhanced their democracies by putting it to the test and went through many changes in order to suit the needs and structures of their own societies.
The system that I advocate for would be a unique home grown solution to our dilemma of presidential elections that have paralyzed Somaliland on many occasions and are a potential source of future conflict. It would be our remedy to avoid presidential elections that have been so synonymous with nothing but a nation sitting on a powder-keg just waiting to explode at any moment. I strongly believe that rotational presidency among political parties offers the only solution for peaceful existence in Somaliland’s case and a way to steer clear of future conflicts. that may arise as a result of presidential elections.
By Ahmed Hussein Kahin