Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Disenfranchised in Somaliland

Somaliland, home to over 4.5 million people, declared independence from Somalia in 1991. The region's fight to be recognized as an independent state has been hindered by diplomatic issues between the international community and Somalia. Somaliland, meanwhile, functions as a sovereign entity, with its own constitution, institutions and permanent population. Somaliland is ruled by three national parties, a number limited by the constitution in order to discourage clan-based and sub-clan parties and competition, which have led to tensions in the past. Such alliances, however, still play an important part in the region's politics. Disagreements between sub-clans have led to tensions within the ruling party itself.

The relative stability Somaliland has seen for years is now at risk of coming undone. What ought to have been the first parliamentary elections in this autonomous region of Somalia since 2005 have been put off once more. The postponement of a vote set for mid-December to 2022 and increasing crackdowns on free speech pose a risk to Somaliland, an internationally endorsed autonomous region of Somalia that straddles the borders of Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The most recent postponement of the parliamentary vote to 2022 has triggered discontent on the part of the opposition and among young people who say they feel excluded. 

"We are having a whole generation unable to elect their own representatives, because everyone who is under the age of 30 was not eligible to vote in 2005 when our parliament was elected," says Guleid Ahmed Jama, a lawyer and political analyst. "There is a detachment between the elected officials and the majority of the people in the city, who are suffering because of unemployment and other social issues."

While presidential elections have been held on a regular basis, the upper and lower houses of parliament have been in place for 14 and 22 years respectively. The elections for the lower house scheduled for this year were put off until 2022, officially because parties disagreed on who should run the new National Election Commission. However, many people argue that the unwillingness of Somaliland parliamentarians to relinquish power is behind the repeated deferral of the vote. Local councils have also been operating without a mandate since April. 
Despite the political squabbles, Somaliland is still considered as a model of internal stability and peace in the Horn of Africa, and one with strong institutions. But human rights organizations say democracy might be threatened by an increase in arrests and arbitrary detention of journalists and opposition figures. Only a few weeks ago, the chief editor of privately owned Horn Cable TV was arrested by the police, and the station was forcibly closed.

"We have seen that media outlets and other individuals who are critical of the government, particularly those who talk about corruption cases, have been targeted, arrested and had their media outlets closed down. It is a violation of freedom of expression," says Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International's Somalia researcher. "I'm really afraid  that the country might descend into worrying kinds of chaos if this current pattern continues."

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