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What are the determinants of election victory in Somalia?

The presidential election in Somalia is a test of transition and a paradigm shift where the country must accomplish a long-awaited milestone of drastic changes.

Somalia is continuing a highly disputed election amid contested dynamism with apparent and imperceptible influences. Somalia’s Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) announced the 294-plus members of Parliament from both the lower and upper houses. On April 14, a swearing-in ceremony was conducted for the parliamentarians in the presence of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, who was responsible for the election processes of the past year. Roble’s main target is to securely complete the election of 2022, which will introduce a transfer of power.

The swearing-in ceremony will be followed by critical milestones, such as the election of the speaker who will lead the country to the vote for its 10th president. More than 50 men and woman have declared their candidacy to lead this fragile state, but very few stand a realistic chance of becoming the 10th president of the Federal Republic of Somalia.

In this election, elected Somali parliamentarians will use their votes to express approval or disapproval of government decisions, policies and programs while examining the qualities of the candidates engaged in the struggle to win the status of becoming the representative of the people for the upcoming four years.

No studies have been conducted about the determinants of electoral behavior in Somalia to show the contributing factors for electoral victory, which include but are not limited to state preference (tribal groups), the influence of money or the charismatic personality of a leader and a host of other factors that have a definite influence on the minds of the Somali voter. Although the public is not voting yet, their influence and support are worthy of consideration for the upcoming elections.

This ongoing election has been frequently delayed and produced certain outstanding differences that need to be resolved through dialogue and compromise from all stakeholders to attain a swift conclusion of the electoral process. Somalia’s state of affairs is very depressing, with U.N. agencies stating that millions in Somalia are at a higher risk of sliding into famine as the impact of a prolonged drought continues to destroy lives and livelihoods. The upcoming leadership will come with pending projects, including a looming famine, debt relief program risk, a successionist enclave, the transition of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) by 2024 and the reconstruction of a polarized society following the tenure of ex-Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmajo.

Civic engagement, political parties and the voice of the public are absent in this context, but the public’s thoughts and expressions are to be reckoned with when analyzing the probable candidate to lead Somalia in the next term. The behavior of Somali voters is influenced by limited determinants that I’ll explore in this piece. These determinants are ever-shifting, such as state preferences, political lobbies and networks, external support and cash for the vote, charisma and the public’s thoughts. One rule of thumb in contemporary presidential elections was that, once the president’s term ends, a second term is impossible.

State preference (sub-clan)

Some of the key developments we will experience in the 2022 election are the preferences of the federal state members, who will partly influence the outcome. Examples of this are the allied states of Puntland and Jubbaland, which will prefer one candidate with a mission to remove the current administration and call for a stronger federal system. No candidate can dream of becoming president without first securing the backing of the members of parliament from his state. After all, all politics are determined locally. As the federal state is dominated by certain clans, influential indicators can be found within the clans and in Somalia, the clan system is one of the most predictable determinants of voting behavior. A combined vote of 329 is contested when one of the successful first-round comers other than the incumbent will be the winner. Certain candidates are backed by a federal state they hail from or are allied with.

Political lobbying, networking

Having a political lobby is key factor in this case, and a powerful lobby is needed that can negotiate, create alliances and bargain before and during the consecutive rounds of the election. The political network eases the effort and logistics of the campaign in which promises are made, such as a post in the next government, in exchange for a vote. These networks, strategic lobbying, competitive profiling and investment will take the candidate halfway to Villa Somalia, the presidential palace in capital Mogadishu. Visits to the country’s regions, public appearances and powerful representatives with immense networks also play an essential role.

External support and petro-dollar

Almost all presidents of Somalia were elected with external support. The past three elected presidents had backing from either a neighboring country or Gulf state. The petro-dollar (oil export revenues denominated in U.S. dollars) as political investment has cultivated a culture of dependency in the international arena. After the state collapsed, Somali politics shifted to Addis Ababa, but now the decisions of Somalia’s politics are influenced by Doha, Riyadh, Dubai and possibly Tehran. Geopolitics is at play here, and all external actors influence the candidacies. The exploration of oil, ports and military bases off Somali shores will mean the upcoming election will see huge investments and will be highly contested by international stakeholders.

External money is a critical factor in vote-buying, lobbying and campaigning, which in this case will be widely spent – and wherever it lands cannot be questioned, let alone its legitimacy. A few candidates for the top job are said to have received the blessing and backing of the above capitals or unknown organizations whose agenda is none other than resources. It is a national disgrace to be on the payroll of other nations, and Somalia’s vote in the international arena such as the African Union (AU), the Arab league and the U.N. General Assembly on the pertinent questions will be permitted for only those with supportive investments during this time of election because a foreign policy doctrine is missing.

The role of charisma

The qualities of envisioning a good, optimistic manifesto, communication and persuading others are also important determinants for winning an election in Somalia. Understanding the public needs and establishing a narrative worthy of listening to is a basic need and once coupled with good communication and confidence, people are inspired to follow you. A written, documented and widely spread political manifesto with a good social media campaign will seduce the public spirit and is an essential factor in winning this election. Social media is a modern communicative element that reaches populations of different walks of life and demographies.

Public opinion, thoughts

According to various election surveys, public opinion and perception are fundamental to elections. They are linked, meaning that the leader who is elected will not diverge far from the voters’ opinion. There is a strong correlation between public opinion and voting behavior in most democratic elections. Through public appearance, public perception is created and maintained while establishing a sense of affirmation for parliamentarians to discover who the candidate is and what they stand for.

To find out where a candidate stands when it comes to public opinion, one needs to find out what people are thinking. For those opinions to count, they need to be strong enough to inspire the members of parliament to vote in favor of the best candidate for the country’s top office. Before that happens, a candidate, potential voters and MPs need to get to know one another. In this case, candidates who have served the country will have leverage over the newcomers, though the newcomers often win due to the desirability of a new face with fresh ideas to lead the country.

Finally, for Somalia, this election is a test of transition and a paradigm shift in which the country must accomplish a long-awaited milestone of completing and adopting a constitution, establishing an exit for the ATMIS, a plan to counter the al-Shabab terrorist group, re-enforcing the debate of governance system, debt relief, political reconciliation and the question of secession and Somaliland. The new administration will inherit a demoralized nation suffering from polarized politics and failures for the past five years that will need incredible tenacity, capacity and dedication to overcome. Overcoming all the above will not only make a president but a national hero for Somalia.

BY AHMED M. ROBLE
Holder of MBA and pursuing M.A in Peace, Governance and Development at University for Peace