Somalia: Is Farmaajo’s term extension a power grab or the way forward to election reform?

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Posted on Thursday, 15 April 2021 13:03

Somali legislators of the lower house of parliament raise their hands to vote to extend President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's term for another two years to let the country prepare for direct elections, in Mogadishu
Somali legislators of the lower house of parliament raise their hands to vote to extend President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's term for another two years to let the country prepare for direct elections, in Mogadishu, Somalia April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Incumbent Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, continues to hold on to power even after his four year term officially ended on 8 February, 2021. A political stalemate pushed back elections and on 12 April, parliamentarians -- at the behest of the executive -- extended Farmajo’s term for another two years, further complicating the situation in the country.

In a daring move on Monday 12 April, Mogadishu police chief Sadaq Omar also known as ‘John’ issued a statement directing members of parliament not to attend a session of the lower house of the people.

According to the police chief — who has since been replaced –– he was trying to protect Somalia from plunging into further chaos due to the prolonged elections impasse. In his statement, Sadaq said: “I stopped today’s session because parliament’s term expired and there is no need for an extension of their term.”

The Federal Government, through police commissioner Abdi Hassan Hijar, swiftly responded by removing Sadaq and replacing him with Farhan Qaroole.

Parliament then went ahead with its programme, with the speaker of the lower house Mohamed Mursal Sheikh tabling a bill that provides for a two-year timeline for universal suffrage.

This would allow for Somalia to have “one-person one-vote elections (1P1V) and enable Somalis to decide who will be their leaders,” said Musral. The bill, that was promptly passed in parliament, puts the country on the path for preparing for elections and ultimately, keeps Farmaajo in power for another two years.

Mohamed Hasssan Haad, chairman of the Hawiye clan that dominates Mogadishu, had called for external intervention to stop Farmaajo from extending his term. “We have been warning of this outcome for months and it has come to pass. That man who says he is president should not be allowed to stand on any podium. The international community must intervene and demand he vacates office. His term has expired and he must go.”

But, Amin Jesow, one of the 149 MPs who supported the motion, says this proves Somalia can handle its own affairs. “This is the day we anticipated in Somalia. We clearly say no to any foreign interference. Power belongs to Somali people.”

‘Lead to nothing but disaster’

This new law is facing opposition from two parliamentarians:

  • Abdirahman Odowaa was adamant about the flaws in the proposed bill, saying: “This motion is poorly crafted and something of an afterthought. It will lead to nothing but disaster and it will have a personal impact on the character of the speaker.”
  • Hassan Maalim, an MP in the lower house for the past decade had never risen to speak, until now. He said: “It is my first time to speak in this house and the reason why I am standing up to speak is because I see something big coming. I must warn you that what you are doing is at the behest of the executive arm of government.”

Maalim sees the extension as an affront to parliament’s independence. He said: “We are assuming other peoples’ responsibilities and doing their dirty business. This could lead to the demise of parliament. This motion for extension is a complete fiasco, defamatory and lacks any kind of legality.”

Professor Yahya Amir, a scholar at Mogadishu University was disappointed with conduct of the president, saying: “This is utter nonsense and a contempt of the parliamentary process. We have been saying things are not right and Farmaajo has proved us right. His actions can lead to further political escalations and this is bound to have a negative impact on his presidency.”

Farmaajo’s rise to power

In 2010, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed —  a Somali-American — was working as a civil servant at the Buffalo office of the New York Department of Transportation. According to him, Farmaajo allegedly got an opportunity to meet the then president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

During their brief encounter, Sheikh Sharif must have been utterly impressed by Farmaajo’s brilliance because a month later, the president appointed him as prime minister. Nonetheless, backroom politics in Mogadishu made sure Farmaajo served as prime minister for only two years.

A decade later and after his chance meeting with the former president, Farmaajo is President while the former is chair to the Council of Presidential Candidates, a grouping of opposition politicians seeking to remove him from Villa Somalia.

The election of Farmaajo as Somalia’s president on 8 February 2017 was received with much jubilation across the streets of Mogadishu. Somalis viewed him as a nationalist against other candidates who appeared aligned to foreign interests. During his first four years at Villa Somalia, Farmaajo has stealthily continued to build his reputation as a nationalist, to the detriment of his political detractors who he has continually tagged as representing foreign interests.

Farmaajo’s term in office was to end on 8 February, as per the constitution, but political squabbling between Villa Somalia and two dissenting member states – Jubbaland and Puntland –forced elections to be delayed.

A new electoral model was proposed ahead of this year’s elections and signed by all member states on 17 September 2020, except Jubbaland and Puntland, thereby setting in motion the ongoing stalemate.

Mogadishu vs federal states

Since coming into power, Farmaajo has rallied Somalis around a strong and central state; contrary to the decentralised system in place.

Jubaland’s president Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islaan Madobe and Puntland’s Saed Abdullahi Deni see Farmaajo as having invoked nationalism as a way of destroying the agreed-upon federal power structure.

Among the five member states, only Puntland and Jubbaland remain defiant against his efforts to consolidate power around Villa Somalia.

Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a researcher and analyst on Horn of Africa issues, says the extension of term is what will help Somalia put in place proper elections rather than ones marred by bribery. “The world must help Somalia hold popular elections, not bribery-marred by indirect ones. Today’s decision by parliament indeed saved Somalia from chaos,” he tweeted.

After parliament overwhelmingly passed the motion to extend the term of government for another two years, Villa Somalia also took to twitter to congratulate MPs for returning the elections mandate to the people.

According to Villa Somalia, it is the failure by the Federal Member States (FMS) to support the implementation of the 17 September 2020 agreement that forced parliament to take drastic steps. It added that this extension will provide the government with enough time to conduct universal suffrage.

International community responds to the extension

A day later after news of the extension on 13 April, the EU, a major partner, issued a terse statement urging “immediate return to talks on the holding of elections without delay based on the September 17 Agreement.” In the brief statement, the EU warned of “further concrete measures” if the current administration fails to rescind the extension.

  • The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) also called for restraint among all political players and a return to dialogue based on the 17 September agreement.
  • UK’s minister for Africa James Duddrigge expressed dismay over the Lower House’s decision to extend the mandate of Farmaajo’s government.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his official twitter account, also expressed disappointment over the federal government’s term extension saying it undermines Somalia’s peace and security.

Days ahead for Somalia

Although Somalia has steered itself towards the path of creating 1P1V in two years, it has done so at a cost. The days ahead are bound to be nerve racking as Somalia’s political elite try to find their space in the new political dispensation.

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