Somalia donors reject Mohamed Farmaajo’s term extension

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Somalia’s Federal Government says it will stick with the decision of the country’s parliament to extend the mandate of the President and legislators, in spite of global condemnations.

A statement issued on Wednesday night indicated Mogadishu will defy threats from its main donors. Somalia called for support, rather than criticism after President Mohamed Farmaajo assented to a bill to effectively delay elections by two years.

“The decision was broadly supported by key stakeholders in the country, including the Federal Government, Benadir Regional Administration and three out of five federal member states namely Hirshabelle, Galmudug and South West. We urge our friends and allies to continue their constructive support.

“The FG [Federal Government of Somalia] stands by the decisions made by the Federal Parliament and remains committed to implementing free and fair elections in the country within the stipulated time frame,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

The position was an open defiance to a call by main donors, who rejected the extension of the term of MPs and that of President Mohamed Farmaajo, terming it as a move that could endanger the country’s stability.

In a series of coordinated statements, the US, UK and the European Union said they will consider “changing” the nature of relations with Somalia, falling short of threatening sanctions.

Electoral processes

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US will “re-evaluate” bilateral relations with Somalia if the President forces through the extension.

“We have also made clear that the United States does not support mandate extensions without broad support from Somalia’s political stakeholders, nor does the United States support parallel or partial electoral processes.

“Implementation of this bill will pose serious obstacles to dialogue and further undermine peace and security in Somalia. It will compel the United States to re-evaluate our bilateral relations with the Federal Government of Somalia, to include diplomatic engagement and assistance, and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”

He said in a statement, hours after President Farmaajo on Tuesday assented to a motion passed by the Lower House of Parliament to extend the term of incumbents by two years, after leaders failed to agree on a model for indirect elections.

The motion was endorsed by 149 MPs in a House of 275. It was not tabled before the Senate as is tradition and President Farmaajo promptly endorsed its passage. It went against the call by donors, partners and opposition groups; all of who opposed term extension, parallel elections of delays.

“The European Union believes that the passage and signing of this resolution will divide Somalia, impose additional delays and constitute a grave threat to the peace and stability of Somalia and its neighbours. It certainly does not serve the interests of the people of Somalia,” said Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative.

Facing dilemma

“We call for an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections without delay based on the September 17 agreement. Failing this, the EU will consider further concrete measures.”

The donors had looked like they were facing a dilemma on how to react to the move by the country’s Parliament to extend the mandate of President Mohamed Farmaajo.

The immediate question on Tuesday was whether the decision of the Lower House alone could extend the mandate of a President elected in a joint bicameral sitting in 2017.

The motion also effectively shut down talks on how to conduct an indirect election as agreed on earlier, crossing one of the red lines established by donors on the electoral model.

“This is not a solution to the ongoing impasse on the electoral process, but instead a move that undermines the credibility of Somalia’s leadership and risks the safety and future of the Somali people,” said James Duddridge, the UK’s Minister for Africa.

“In the absence of consensus leading to inclusive and credible elections being held without further delay, the international community’s relationship with Somalia’s leadership will change. The UK will work with its international partners on a common approach to re-evaluate our relationship and the nature of our assistance to Somalia.”

Opposition group, the National Salvation Forum, warned on Tuesday evening the move was a threat to Somalia’s peace and security.

“The Forum, in consultation with various sections of the Somali society, will take necessary steps against unconstitutional term extension and take measures to find a solution for the transitional period,” the Forum which brings together 15 presidential aspirants and leaders of Jubbaland and Puntland states said in a statement.

Universal suffrage

In two years, the legislators say Somalia should be ready to hold universal suffrage, a type of election the country hasn’t held in fifty ears.

President Mohamed Farmaajo said the bill “restored power to the people” and warned against outside manipulation.

“All government agencies shall carry out their mandate using diplomatic terms and principles without tolerating outside interference,” Villa Somalia, the president’s official residence in Mogadishu said.

“The government shall play a role in the implementation of the electoral law as passed by the House of the people to rightfully restore the constitutional power to the Somali people.”

The vote went counter to a rallying call by the African Union, IGAD, the European Union, the US, UK and other main donors for Somalia. They had on April 10 warned against decisions to organise parallel elections or extend the mandate of the incumbents. They also warned against any attempts to secure power illegally.

With Somalia having no functioning constitutional court to interpret lacunas in the law, the move by Parliament had left analysts haggling over its legality.

“Article 47 of the Somali Transitional Constitution expressly gives the power [to enact] electoral legislation to the Lower House,” said Adam Aw Hirsi, a former senior government official in Somalia.

Electoral calendar issue

Mr Aw Hirsi told the Nation that the Lower House, also known as the House of the People was right as it was technically addressing an electoral calendar issue.

“Technically, there is no ‘power extension’ here. A new timeline was set for elections. The Lower House of Parliament legislated that the current government will see to it that elections happen and in not more than two years,” he told the Nation on Tuesday.

Parliament passed the motion even though its own four-year term had technically ended on December 27, 2020. President Farmaajo’s term had also ended on February 8.

The incumbents had stayed on in office based on another motion passed last year to have them stay around until new officials are elected. Somalia’s leaders had failed to agree on a date and model of an indirect election. Could parliament in transition enact laws on elections? Somalia has been running on a provisional constitution since 2012.

“Government officials are elected to lead the country for a specified period in the constitution,” said Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Farmaajo’s predecessor.

“Attempts to forcibly increase this period are considered military coups. The President will be responsible for the consequences,” he wrote on Twitter.

Somalia had failed to organise universal suffrage in four years, despite aiming for it. Critics charge two years will be insufficient to organise one-person-one-vote elections, when stakeholders are still bickering on election dates.

“The international community has drawn three redlines on the Somali electoral process: no partial elections, no parallel processes, no extension,” Mohamed Abdi Ware, former President of Hirshabelle state.

“Today, one of three redlines, extension, has been crossed. Will the other two hold? What will the international community do?”

Meanwhile, a group of influential Hawiye traditional clan elders known as Golaha Midnimada Hawiye, countered the decision by the parliament to extend the term of the federal institutions.

Mohamed Hassan Haad, the chairman of the group stated on Tuesday, “Since we represent a large section of the society, we see the action taken yesterday (Monday) as contrary to the unity and fraternity of the Somali people.”

On the other hand, three federal member states, namely Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West plus Banadir Regional Authority (Mogadishu municipality and surrounding locations) that are perceptibly allied with President Farmaajo issued a letter on Monday, confirming their endorsement of the parliamentary decision.

The Presidents of Jubbaland State and Puntland State, Ahmed Mohamed Madobe and Said Abdullahi Deni, who had remained in Mogadishu for over a month left on Tuesday afternoon. It is an indication that the series of meetings meant to clear differences over the indirect elections are now over.

Aidarous Hassan, a Mogadishu-based intellectual, told Nation that many people are afraid of what the looming uncertainty may cause.

“An entire nation is holding breath, not knowing what may happen,” Hassan remarked.