Somalia’s divided political leaders have failed to agree on how to proceed with elections in emergency talks, a government minister has announced, just days before the end of the president’s current term.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed flew back to the capital from the central town of Dhusamareb, without a deal on the staffing of regional electoral commissions, Information Minister Osman Dubbe said late on Friday, with Somalia likely to miss a February 8 deadline to choose a new president.
“The government offered to negotiate and settle all the disputed issues, but some brothers have failed to understand, and refused to resolve the issues,” Dubbe told reporters in Mogadishu late on Friday.
“The government has shown flexibility to compromise, gentleness and readiness to negotiate, but some leaders tried to exploit that openness to seek more. That will not work.”
Mohamed, who is seeking a second term in office, is expected to announce another round of talks at a joint sitting of Parliament on Saturday.
He reached an agreement with the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous regions on September 17, paving the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.
But the deal fell apart as disagreements over how to conduct the process exacerbated tensions between the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, and some regional rivals.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, who has extensively covered Somali affairs, said the impasse left the country in “political limbo”.
“Somalia has entered a period of political uncertainty once again, and no one is brave enough to predict what happens next.”
While the constitution sets out four-year mandates for the presidency, an extension of the government’s term by Parliament is legally allowed by precedent, though analysts warn that the move is politically fraught.
“After leaving Dhusamareb, the president is heading directly to parliament, where he is going to ask its members to extend his mandate – and they might do that because extending the president’s mandate means extending their own mandate,” Adow said.
According to Adow, presidential candidates from the opposition, which include two former presidents and one prime minister, said they will not allow an extension of “even one more hour and that President Farmajo should leave office as soon as his mandate is over”.
One sticking point in this week’s crunch talks was over the control of Gedo, an area of Jubbaland where the president’s forces have been battling their regional counterparts for control.
Jubbaland leader Ahmed Madobe accused Mohamed of trying to control the Gedo vote from Mogadishu and rejecting “every possible solution” put forward to resolve a deadlock over the administration of the poll.
“We have previously asked the president to stop meddling with the election process and stick to his campaign, but this didn’t happen,” Madobe said on Friday.
Dubbe said the government “tried hard to have an election in Gedo region similar to that of other states, however, Jubbaland refused that”.
Other contentious issues include the deployment of federal troops in Gedo and the composition of the electoral commission.
Somalia’s foreign backers, which support the weak central government in Mogadishu with critical security and financial assistance, warned this week against any attempts at shortcuts.
“We underscore that any alternative outcomes, including a parallel process or partial elections, or other measures short of an agreed electoral process, would be a setback that would not obtain the support of partners,” the United Nations, African Union and other international partners said in a statement on Thursday.
Somalia had set itself the goal of holding its first “one-person, one-vote” ballot since 1969, a pursuit hailed by the UN as a “historic milestone” on the country’s path to full democratisation and peace after decades of war and violent instability.
But the central government controls only a part of its national territory and frequent attacks by the al-Shabab armed group, among other governance challenges, made such an exercise seem increasingly unlikely.
Instead, the one-person, one-vote model was abandoned for a complex indirect system where special delegates chosen by clan elders pick the country’s lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.
While the process mirrors the last election held in 2017, it was to go a bit further in terms of inclusivity, with 27,775 delegates voting – almost twice as many as last time.
“If the main politicians don’t agree, there is still going to be a massive problem,” said Omar Mahmood, senior analyst for Somalia at international think-tank International Crisis Group.