Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Somaliland’s Election: Fair or a Farce?

Somaliland's Election: Fair or a Farce?


For most observers and the voting population, the only consensus in Somaliland about the recent election is that it was by all accounts a sham and not a real election. There were so many irregularities it is hard to tell whether those managing the process (Election Commission) did anything right.

Multiple voting was rampant and took place virtually at every polling station, initial results coming from the parties representative who were present at initial count was dramatically different from result released by the election commission. Just about every recounted "sealed" box contained different results than the official attached number sanctioned by the election commission.

There are reports coming from Sool to Seylac about massive voter fraud taking place at multiple locations throughout the country and even a video surfaced on the Somaliland website showing a group of men sitting under a tree and stuffing a box with ballots and stamping them at will. Burnt and discarded ballot papers are being found throughout the country and are being produced as evidence of the tampering of legally cast votes.

Despite these very serious allegations the Election Commission has steadfastly refused to allow a simple re-count of contested election results everywhere.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the risks associated with a recount even at a single location are just too great for the Election Commission to undertake because it will expose the magnitude of the fraud contained in the boxes. After initially accepting to recount Hargeisa, the Election Commission quickly reversed its decision and abdicated its responsibility by kicking to ball to the courts to decide whether the election process was free and fair without conducting a single recount.

Unless the court annuls the election or at a minimum requires a country wide recount which is highly unlikely given the fact that the Somaliland courts are totally dependent  on the government and are seen by most as just an extension of the current administration. The unmistakable outcome will be the loss of confidence in one of the only defining character of Somaliland, and that is free and fair elections. The other distinguishing factor is of course the lasting peace the country enjoys, but common sense dictates that peace cannot flourish without justice and we see examples of that in what is taking place with Arab Spring. The killing of unarmed demonstrators in Hargeisa by the police does not espouse confidence in the ability of the government to effectively manage this volatile situation in a manner that can restore confidence in the process or the expectations of many of the final outcome.

All expectations point to the court ratifying this election despite its many shortcomings and with that decision burying the notion that free and fair elections can be expected in Somaliland.

This election was different than previous ones in many respects, the level of fraud was simply too large and too obvious. There are always irregularities in most elections, and these take place even in advance democracies, but what took place this time in Somaliland was simply unprecedented and it went deep and wide.

The heavy hand of government was so pervasive that it not only rigged the election ensuring Kulmiye (government's party) to dominate the election results but according to most observers actually hand-picked winners and losers from the rest of the field and in fact decided which party will advance and which will not.

This manipulation went even further than that and astonishingly they actually were able to choose which candidate advanced and which one did not win a seat even within their own party. There are plenty of Kulmiye candidates who have come out and are contesting the results arguing the discrepancies of the first count vs. the announced tally. There is a plethora of first-hand accounts and circumstantial evidence to warrant a pause here, but all of that is rendered mute because the Election Commission simply refuses to recount the votes and in so doing crystallizes the suspicion that massive fraud took place here.

What is lost among the noise of projected winners and losers is the lost of a credible election and the power of the people's vote to bring about desired change. When elections are rigged to such a degree they lose their importance and value. This diminishes democracy and makes voting irrelevant, and when people are unable to rely on the ballot to express their will, unfortunately they tend to deploy more destructive methods to bring about desired change.

They say hope's spring is eternal and even though this election is a huge step backwards for Somaliland, let's hope the patience and wisdom of the people once again prevails in the face of this latest insult.

by Mahdi Abdi

East Africa Policy Institute

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