The Political Associations and Parties Law No 14, recently passed by the previous Parliament and the House of Elders of Somaliland is a Mexican Standoff that will complicate the country’s political climate in 2022. This piece of legislation which was stuck in legislative purgatory since 2011 before President Bihi resuscitated it and tasked the previous Parliament to rush its approval in March mandates three major election events in 2022

  1. the House of Elders or senate election in May 2022.
  2. the presidential election in November 2022, and
  3. the dissolution of existing political parties and the establishment of new ones in December 2022.

All three elections are so intertwined that the outcome is a political non-zero-sum game that may force everyone to accept a term extension for President Muse Bihi Abdi.

Testing the Waters with Trial Balloon Statements

Although it seems benign, off-the-cuff remark or the rambling of professional windbags, Kulmiye, the ruling party, is testing the waters that presidential elections will not be possible in 2022.

The Head of the Refuges and IDPs Agency Mr. Abdikarim Ahmed Mohamed Hinif and a senior Kulmiye party official rhetorically asked “do you think it is possible to hold two elections within a month?” when answering a question on how the passing of Political Associations and Parties Law No. 14 could lead to a presidential term extension. He is not wrong, and as far as anyone is concerned, we must view this as the official stance of the ruling party of Kulmiye, whose chairperson is the President of the Republic of Somaliland His Excellency Muse Bihi Abdi.

This bombshell statement by Mr. Hinif which barely made the news and had a zero reaction from the opposition parties was followed by another at the SONSOF general assembly from Kulmiye’s spokesperson Mr. Abdinasir Buni who with a straight face stated “In 2020, the presidential election will not take place, as the political party license [legal terms] will expire”.

President Bihi and the ruling party of Kulmiye may not be as confident heading into the Presidential election in November 2022, despite the bravado from some party officials, following the loud rebuke from the public that has given mayoral seats of the major cities to opposition figures and has left Kulmiye scrambling unsuccessfully for votes to keep the position of the Parliament Speaker.

Heading into the May 31st Parliamentary and Local Council elections, President Bihi was arrogant and thought Kulmiye’s victory was in the bag. This may explain why he passed on new political heavyweights like the new Mayor of Hargeisa Mr. Abdikarim Ahmed Moge to run on the Kulmiye ticket but it seems 20/20 hindsight has instilled in the President a new dangerous pragmatism to ensure every avenue is explored to win or remain in power via an extension.

After nearly two months of the May 31st election and a pitched battle for votes to install Mr. Faratoon as the Speaker of the House, Kulmiye and by extension, President Bihi suffered another devastating blow and lost the Parliament Speaker’s position to the opposition.

Despite all the praise heaped on President Bihi for holding a credible election in Somaliland where the opposition parties outperformed his ruling party of Kulmiye, Law No. 14 may have been President Bihi’s ace in the hole or backstop that offers an unpassable opportunity to remake Somaliland’s political landscape with the disbandment of the existing parties, and creation of new ones with the bonus of setting the conditions in the President favor for a term extension. Talk about one stone, two birds.

Multiple scenarios may be at play in President Bihi’s calculus in pursuit of a term extension, but some are more plausible than others and the new Parliament and its composition of young and fairly educated MPs is a wild factor that could complicate things

  1. Parliament grants the House of Elders or Guurti an extension, which will be more than happy to give President Bihi a term extension.
  2. President Bihi and the opposition parties of UCID and Waddani Chairmen agree on extending the life of political parties for a year and in exchange for a term extension.
  3. Using the power of the purse, the Executive Branch fails to fund and adequately prepare for the Guurti, Presidential and new party elections.

Maybe there are other routes being considered, but the new Parliament seems to be the last line of defense that can prevent a term extension and ensure Somaliland builds on the momentum and reputation of being one of Africa’s best democracies.

What are the Implications of a Presidential Term Extension?

Presidential term extensions have been a constant feature in Somaliland politics and have in a way tarnished its democratic credentials and an extension for President Bihi in the wake of the most transparent and fair elections in the entire Horn of Africa will do irreparable harm to Somaliland and its quest for recognition.

The good news is that the Somaliland government has made its position on term extension abundantly clear, albeit with Somalia, where it has added its voice to the torrent of condemnation that Mohamed Abdillahi Farmajo received when he tried to hold on to power illegally. Rightly so, the Somaliland government and by extension President Muse Bihi Abdi saw the move as not only undemocratic but a destabilizing move that directly affected Somaliland’s security should Somalia descend into further chaos.

On July 12th Muse Bihi penned an op-ed on Newsweek titled “Ray of hope in a challenging year for democracy” appealing to Biden admin for to partnership Somaliland because of its commitment to rule of law and democracy; to turn in 180 degrees and seek an extension to delay president election not only will damage 30 years of Somaliland hard work but derails Somaliland road to recognition which has a lot of momentum where multiple former US governments officials are advocating for recognition, which has never happened.

Reputational damage extends to Taiwan as well, one of Somaliland’s true allies, who have taken risks setting up a diplomatic relation with Somaliland that made many world leaders take note of its courage of sending the People’s Republic of China packing.

Taiwan is very likely to be featured prominently in President Biden’s upcoming “Democracy Summit” and when the moment of truth arrives to highlight Somaliland democracy; Taiwan will be forced to distance itself from a partner where democracy has taken a turn and its President is seeking an extension to stay in power.

So far, there are no reactions from the new Parliament, the opposition parties of Waddani and UCID on the trial balloon statements being floated by Kulmiye officials that presidential elections will not take place in 2022. Perhaps the gravity of these statements has not sunk in yet, but election delay or a term extension for President Bihi will undoubtedly set Somaliland further back and undo every bit of democratic bonafide credentials Somaliland gained from recent elections and make it even more indistinguishable from Somalia.

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