Controversy over extension of Farmajo's mandate in Somalia

The Somali president's term of office ended on 8 February and elections should have been held
El presidente de Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed AP/JEROME DELAY

AP/JEROME DELAY  -   President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

On 12 April, the Lower House of the Somali Parliament (House of the People) approved the extension of the mandate of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as "Farmajo". Of the 275 parliamentarians in the chamber, only 153 were present for the vote (three against and one abstention). However, for the decision to be approved, it would have needed the validation of the Senate, which was not consulted. 

The Mogadishu police chief, Sadak Omar Mohamed, was dismissed on Monday for trying to prevent a parliamentary session from taking place, despite the end of the president's mandate. The former police chief in the capital indicated to the press that he would not authorise the meeting because of the end of the presidency, calling on the prime minister to take control.

Los legisladores somalíes de la cámara baja del parlamento levantan la mano para votar la prórroga del mandato del presidente Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed por otros dos años para que el país se prepare para las elecciones directas, en Mogadiscio, Somalia, el 12 de abril de 2021 REUTERS/FAISAL OMAR
REUTERS/FAISAL OMAR-Somali lawmakers in the lower house of parliament raise their hands to vote on extending President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's term in office.

On 8 February, Farmajo's mandate came to an end and elections should have been held, as indicated in the agreement of 17 September 2020, in which the Somali authorities committed to indirect elections. Days before the end of the mandate, urgent meetings were convened with regional leaders in an unsuccessful attempt to reach an agreement that would allow for the elections to be held. The president tried to put himself forward as an interim candidate, but the parliament did not approve, arguing that it was unconstitutional to extend his government, even temporarily. This legal impediment that was used in February has not disappeared, but after two months without a government and with little hope of reaching an agreement between the federal authorities, the opposition and the central government, half of the parliamentarians have decided to grant the two-year extension. Last week was the fourth and last time the parties met to reach an agreement on the elections, but by the end of the meeting, no consensus had been reached and no date for further negotiations had been decided. According to Information Minister Osman Dubbe, it is the intransigence of the federal authorities in Jubaland and Puntland that has made it impossible to reach an agreement. Somalia severed diplomatic relations with Kenya last December over its alleged interference in Jubaland's local affairs. 

The 17 September agreement provided that elections would be held on the basis of a system of delegates nominated by tribal authorities and elders. These 14,000 delegates representing clan interests from across the country choose the 275 members of the lower house of parliament. Despite this consensus, the parties disagree on three main points: the members of the electoral commission, the location of the polls in some federal states and security arrangements to prevent Al-Shabaab attacks. 

Miembros del parlamento somalí asisten al discurso del primer ministro Mohamed Hussein Roble en Mogadiscio, Somalia, el 10 de febrero de 2021 REUTERS/FAISAL OMAR
REUTERS/FAISAL OMAR-Members of the Somali parliament attend Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble's speech in Mogadishu, Somalia, 10 February 2021.

In a joint communiqué, the UN, the African Union, IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) and the European Union urge Somali leaders to reach an agreement to allow for inclusive elections, expressing their concern for Somalia's security, peace, stability and prosperity. The international community is against extending Farmajo's mandate as well as holding by-elections. UN reports highlight the fact that two of the five federal states that make up Somalia do not recognise the president's extended mandate. With the international community against him, Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdirizak wrote to the UN Security Council on Friday protesting international interference in Somalia's internal affairs. 

Regardless of whether Farmajo continues as Somalia's president for the next two years, preparations for elections must begin as soon as possible, and to this end, regional authorities, opposition leaders and the government must continue negotiations on reforming the electoral system. Given previous experiences over the past year, and the non-recognition of Farmajo's extended mandate as president by some local and regional authorities, it appears that the parties have reached a real impasse in the negotiations. In addition to the security crisis, which is mainly driven by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, the Somali government and the UN Office for the Coordination of Health Affairs are warning of worsening drought throughout the country. The rainy season (April to June) is expected to be below average. More than 116,000 Somalis have been displaced since October 2020 due to lack of water and 1.6 million people are currently suffering from acute food insecurity.