Somalia’s Senate approves disputed electoral bill

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Senate sitting in Mogadishu on Saturday passed controversial electoral bill, state-owned SONNA reported, effectively paving way for implementation ahead of December polls.

The bill was first endorsed almost unanimously by the Lower House in December 2019, despite protests from a section of federal states.

Backed by international partners and central government, the bill has been in the offing for a couple of months, and Saturday’s progress effectively ended the stalemate.

Mohamed Farmajo, the President of Somalia, is now expected to assent to the bill before it becomes a law in line with the Constitution, SONNA added.

How the house voted

After months of debate, the Upper House approved the bill, with 27 senators voting in favour. Only six legislators rejected the bill, reports indicated.

The outcome was after all anticipated, given the firm grip of President Farmajo in the Senate, which is the ultimate decision maker on legislation.

A similar trend was witnessed at the Lower House, in which 171 legislators endorsed the bill of the 178 members of the chambers.

Mr. Abdi Hashi Abdullahi, the speaker of the Senate, presided over the tense session. He’s now expected to forward the bill to Villa Somalia.

But before Saturday final debate, a section of lawmakers had called for “radical” amendments on contested articles within the bill.

Bill condemned by federal states

Despite the latest outcome, the bill could further divide the already fragile nation, with federal states decrying “lack of consultation” during drafting.

Said Deni, the Puntland President, on Friday asked the state’s representatives in federal government to report in Garowe for “urgent” consultations.

The federal government, he said, “has failed on its obligation to defend citizens from Al-Shabaab aggression and has been preoccupied with mundane issues.”

Deni, one of critic of the federal government, also questioned discrimination in sharing of state resources, among them petroleum.

The electoral law, he added, “was hastily passed without critical consultations. The federal government has been rigid in promoting Constitutional review.”

Already, the semi-autonomous state has shut down regional offices for the National Independent Electoral Commission [NIEC] over the contentious bill.

Throughout other states, the law has faced resistance, with stakeholders calling for “honest” dialogue to unlock the stalemate.

Some of the controversial articles

While the country is in dire need of the law before December polls, the inverse on preparations could be true at the grassroots.

Article 53, the opposition argued, would pave way for “unprecedented extension of terms” contrary to the constitutional requirements.

In the event of calamities such as drought, diseases and conflict, the current tenure of parliament and executive should be extended, the article states.

This, Abdirahman Abdishakur protested, “would perpetuate impunity” in the name of extension of term limits against the spirit of national reconciliation.

Also, the 30 per cent gender parity has raised eyebrows among female legislators, following the decision to expunge the affirmative action approach in article 23.

Stakeholders are yet to settle on the electoral model, although the NIEC and international partners have endorsed “one-person-one vote” system.

Critics insist the model would pay way for unnecessary delay of the polls, a move that could lead to illegal extension of current term.

NIEC’s stand on the current situation

While the law is yet to appeal to everyone, the electoral body has already endorsed it, citing support from international community.

Halima Ismael, the agency’s boss, on Thursday said “we are ready for one-man-one vote, it’s upon Senate to immediately pass the law”.

The model has also received backup from the United States, which is a major stakeholder in the efforts to restore stability in Somalia.

Donald Yamamoto, the US ambassador to Somalia, has since called for “sober” dialogue between FGS and federal states, to settle the current squabbles.

But the two warring parties are yet to strike a deal, something that leaves the much anticipated polls in a limbo despite