Al-Shabaab warns elders ahead of Somalia’s Lower House polls

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The Al-Shabaab militants have yet again fired warning shots to elders ahead of elections in the country, a move seen as a strategy to scare them in their roles of picking delegates who are going to participate in electing Members of Parliament.

With senatorial polls already underway, community elders who have a large stake in parliamentary indirect polls, are set to pick 101 delegates from each constituency, who will eventually participate in elections. The elders will be assisted by members of the civil society.

In a statement issued through proxy media outlets, Al-Shabaab spokesperson Ali Dhere warned elders and other contractors to stay away from the elections. The militants are keen to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia administration.

Two years ago the group gave elders 45 days to “repent” for their role in previous elections. Despite threats, citizens are excited as election fever grips the nation, Voice of America journalist Harun Maruf notes.

In July this year, the leader of Al-Shabaab Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah threatened electoral delegates who will be participating in upcoming elections; arguing that the group is opposed to the process. “They [leaders] will not be guaranteeing your safety,” he said in purported audio published by the militant media

It’s unclear where or when Abu Ubaidah’s speech was recorded but he mentions the militant group’s attack on Bosaso prison in March, and the Somali parliament’s term extension in April and the political stalemate that followed almost gives a clue.

Early this week, UK ambassador to Somalia Kate Foster also raised concerns about the possibility of Al-Shabaab infiltrating the elections. She insisted that the country should ensure selection of delegates is transparent.

For the credibility of the polls to improve, Ms. Foster said there is a need to look into the delegate selection process, which she believes paves way for possible infiltration. A number of local elders and members of civil society will be tasked to pick delegates.

“Yeah, I mean it is [Al-shabaab threat] it is a concern. I think what is important is that to come back to the delegate selection process, I think how that process happens matters and makes a quite significant difference,” she said. “The credibility of the process ahead of us. I think once we’re through this election, there will be a conversation.”

Stakeholders settled on indirect elections after months of wrangles thus making it difficult for implementation of the universal suffrage elections. Initially, the country was preparing for direct polls but implementation became difficult.

In the future, Ms. Foster says the country just rethink holding direct polls which minimize Al-Shabaab influence on the ballot. There are concerns that some elders could be compromised by the militants to pick delegates in a manner that favors them.

“I hope that will very much be led by, um, the people of Somalia about how we move to a voting system that really is very accountable to the people of Somalia in a way that perhaps doesn’t entirely exist with the current process,” she noted.

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