Somali opposition presidential candidates fret over election process

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With Somalia failing to meet a timeframe for holding parliamentary elections several times, opposition presidential candidates say they are unhappy over the way the process has been conducted as a new deadline of Feb. 25 looms.

Dahir Mohamud Gelle, an opposition presidential candidate who spoke to Anadolu Agency, said the most important thing a country can do is hold an election that is fair, transparent and that people trust.

Gelle said it had been three years since they started their election campaign, but instead the presidential candidates have been busy fighting for the elections to be held.

He said riots that erupted twice in the capital Mogadishu due to the delayed polls occurred precisely because the government did not want to hold elections.

Somalia has witnessed two election-related political standoffs, one of which took place after current President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s constitutional mandate expired on Feb. 8 last year and the opposition declared that they didn’t recognize him as president.

The other standoff, which appears to be still going on, emerged after Mohamed suspended the powers of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble over alleged corruption and the embezzlement of public land, allegations that Roble denied.

Following the political tiff between Mohamed and Roble, nearly all of the opposition positioned themselves behind the prime minister, who was also receiving some international support.

Months later, elections still haven’t been held, but Gelle, a former information minister and Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia, claimed that the opposition has done everything to ensure that they are carried out without irregularities.

He said that on several occasions, they had proposed that the prime minister take over responsibility for the elections and he has succeeded.

“This is because the outgoing president wants to use all means to return to office. We are still keeping an eye on the elections. We are not completely satisfied and have seen that there is great corruption and breaches of regulations that have not been seen before in Somalia’s election history,” said Gelle.

He noted that in politics, it is always important to compromise and that we always choose the best for the Somali people.

“We emphasize that we are far from what we wanted,” he said.

He said that if accepting the election results is the best option for the country and the Somali people, “even though it is being abused,” they are ready to do so.

On whether he can achieve what the previous administrations failed to do, Gelle said if he wins the presidential election, he will have a political plan with priorities ready.

He said his priority is to achieve peace and reconciliation among the Somali people, because “one cannot pursue politics when the people don’t have peace and reconcile among themselves, and this will be the solution to find a common policy for economic growth and security.”

He also mentioned Somaliland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia, and said it is an important part of Somalia and needs a political solution.

Gelle said Somaliland wants to become independent, which worries Somalia in terms of the country’s unity and territorial integrity.

“We also must complete the Constitution and set a new course for Somali foreign policy,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Good relations with Turkiye

Gelle, who is seen by many as one of the favorites among the opposition candidates vying for the top post, said Turkiye is a country that Somalia has a good friendship with and they have common interests as both countries are members of international bodies and enjoy historical relations with good connections and cooperation between them.

He said relations between states go through various stages and are not linear. At times, they are good, while other times they are problematic.

“This is not unique to us but applies worldwide. As of today, we have good relations with Turkiye, especially in the economic sector, the health sector, and such a relationship can help Somalia connect to the whole world while the two nations maintain mutual respect and benefit,” he said.

He noted that the relationship must be based on Somali and Turkish interests and they want cooperation not only to support but to mutually utilize each other’s expertise and economic growth.

“Such relations must always be evaluated and reevaluated, what kind of interests and advantages Turkiye gets from Somalia and vice versa, and from which we can compare advantages and disadvantages,” he said.

Another issue of concern is the politicization of Turkish trained security forces in Somalia during the election-related political standoff, especially by members of the opposition.

Asked why the opposition is politicizing the country’s security forces, Gelle alleged that soldiers that Turkiye has trained for Somalia have been used by the administration led by Mohamed against the opposition and their supporters

“We do not mind that Somali soldiers are being trained by the Turkish state, but they should not be used for political purposes,” he said.

He noted that one must rather direct the criticism at those who exploit the soldiers to their advantage and policy as well as to weaken their opponents.

Election deadline

The country has already completed the election of the 54-member Senate chamber and is currently struggling to meet the latest election deadline with only a few days to go.

Gelle expressed optimism that the country can meet the deadline, saying it is entirely possible, but a proper effort is needed.

“If you do not work with it, it can take place in February, March, April and May. This depends on the individuals who are working on the election, and it is possible to complete the elections by Feb. 25. If they choose to extend the process, they can also make it happen,” he said.

Neighboring Kenya

Gelle said Kenya is a neighbor of Somalia, sharing borders, a flow of people between them and trade. He said a large number of refugees live in Kenya, and wars between each other have no benefit to anyone.

“Our common good is to create peace and harmony,” he said, adding he wants a policy based on regional geopolitical considerations

“There is great potential for creating a free flow of goods, services and people, as well as creating a common good security policy that secures the inhabitants of both nations.”

Gelle said if he wins, his strategic plans within foreign policy will be far different from the foreign policy that has been implemented in the last five years.

Somalia’s political foe

The problem between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi seems to be due to the challenges between the Gulf states.

After the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, Somalia is said to have taken a neutral position, but the opposition has claimed that the current administration wasn’t fully neutral.

Gelle said the Somali government has failed to remain neutral in the Gulf case, which led to the UAE being portrayed as Somalia’s enemy.

“The Somali government must find a strategy that does not take part in other countries’ disagreements,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Somali recruits in Eritrea

The latest reports that were widely shared by Somali local media as well as on social media indicate that Somali forces took part in Ethiopia’s civil war and also committed “atrocities.”

The Somali government previously denied that its cadets who were flown to Eritrea to receive military training crossed the Ethiopian border and fought against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The government’s sending of soldiers to Eritrea to receive training was an incident it kept hidden from the people, which it later admitted, Gelle claimed.

He said the opposition welcomes all soldiers who are trained for the Somali state, which he regarded as a “good step in the right direction.”

Gelle said the allegations that Somali soldiers had participated in the Ethiopian war have not been verified by the opposition.

“I do not want to pursue allegations without being able to present evidence, and so far, no one has clear evidence of the allegation,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said he strongly hopes that these allegations are not rooted in reality so that the Somali state and people avoid being involved in a problem that has arisen in the region.

“Somalia has no interest in interfering in the internal policies of neighboring countries. It is important to be able to reject claims that have no basis in evidence and that will be detrimental to the reputation of our country.”

Anadolu Agency