Overcoming a looming electoral challenge
Somaliland held elections at the municipal, parliamentary and presidential levels. The country also witnessed orderly and peaceful transitions of power at the office of the presidency on at least 3 occasions. This is of course a laudable democratic tradition. But last year’s electoral problems should lead us to seek solutions lest we encounter more serious problem in the coming elections.
Problems with last year’s municipal elections should act a clear warning that the electoral process should be redesigned to eliminate any opportunity for irregularities and not to leave any room for dispute. In a country where high level of unemployment exist, there is the motivation among elites to win elective offices by any means necessary. Given what we experienced in last year’s municipal elections, it is reasonable to expect even more serious problems in the coming presidential and parliamentary election, which offer much higher prizes, unless there is an electoral system that is fraud-proof.
Up until now the procedure for voting was for the voters to dip their index fingers into ink after casting their votes for the candidates of their choices. There are vulnerabilities to this procedure: the ink can be washed off and a voter can cast multiple votes or election proctors can collude with candidates to stuff boxes with bogus ballots. The fact is this procedure was not meant to be permanent but only as a stop gap measure until a more reliable procedure is designed.
The most reliable procedure is the biometric system, which has the capability to recognize the unique biological characteristic of each individual such as finger prints, retinal and facial features. Personal identification technologies are nowadays affordable. Larry Diamond, in a recent article, cites a study which found that “450 million people in developing countries have had their biometric data catalogued”. There are press reports that western donors have decided to give a second chance to Somaliland and fund another registration effort, which will of course be biometric in nature since there is no other procedure that will be resistant to irregularity and guarantee one person-one-vote. Making this second opportunity successful should be the responsibility of all Somalilanders. Problems experienced in last year’s municipal elections were caused by the collective failure of the society. No body can say that it was caused by the Administration or one specific party. It was equal opportunity undertaking among candidates of all parties who were determined to exploit whatever weaknesses they can find in the system. Hence, making this second opportunity work well should be the responsibility of all the stakeholders. If the accounts that donors are giving another chance is true, then Somaliland must ensure that funds are put to good use by registering voters through the biometric system. Political leaders and civil society groups need to launch a public awareness campaign to educate the people that it is wrong and illegal to engage in voter fraud. Religious leaders should preach in mosques that voter fraud is xaraam. Similar message need to be disseminated in the media and legislation, if it does not already exists, needs to be enacted that criminalizes acts that violate one-vote-one person rule. Indeed a portion of the budget for registration should be dedicated towards raising public awareness campaign and donors need to be in engaged in the whole registration process and not limit themselves to transferring the funds.
The coming elections constitute an existential test for Somaliland. Success of the elections will usher another era of stability. If it is done properly, it will be a major achievement for the Administration of President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo. On the other hand, if problems were to be encountered like the last election, it may plunge the nation into more serious social crisis. I hope my fears will end up being unfounded. A biometric based voter registration for people eligible to vote will guarantee legitimacy for newly elected leaders and earn respect for Somaliland democracy from the world. We need to get it right this time. Who knows if there will be a third chance!
By Adan H Iman | Photo: Kate Stanworth