By:Abdikarim Saed Salah
The Minister of Information, Culture & National Guidance, Mr. Sulaiman Ali Kore, has announced that it’s time for citizens to exercise their political rights to form political parties and associations based on the Law of Political Parties & Associations, LR.14.
The Minister has also communicated with the public on the president’s stance on the legal status of the recent amendment to the Law of Political Parties & Associations, LR.14/2021– one that has been surrounded with controversy regarding its legal status- a stance which stated that the license of existing political parties has expired and therefore, an election of political parties & associations must be held. Following immediately, the leaders of oppositional parties reconvened to issue a collective response to the government announcement regarding the implementation of the Law of Political Parties & Associations. The chairmen of Waddani & UCID parties, respectively, Mr. Hersi Ali Haji Hassan and Mr. Faisal Ali Hussein, denounced the governments’ announcement, calling it an unlawful attempt to intervene a pending law amendment before the House of Representatives.
In the following days, the amendment of the Law of Political Parties & Associations – Lr.14/2021- has caused wide-spread controversy regarding its legal status, resulting disagreements between the members of the House of Representatives themselves.
The controversy and the disagreements that have engulfed local politics in Somaliland have to do with the amendment of Lr.14/2011, undertaken by the previous parliament which has introduced major amendments in relation to the procedures of electing political parties/associations as elements in the law deemed unapplicable having held the local council election which used to serve, under the previous amendment lr.14/2021, as the official election aligned with the contest for political parties/associations formation.
In an effort to re-amend the Law so that the alternative procedures for parties/associations election of contest are legally clarified, the previous parliament has approved the second amendment of the Law of Political Parties & Associations, introducing an official direct election between forming parties/associations to be held at least 6 months before the parties’ license expiration date – in replacement to prior alignment with local council’s election. After series of debates, the House of Elders has also approved the amendment and the Law was sent to the president’s office for the president’s undertaking of his constitutional right by either signing it into a law or vetoing against with a note listing his reasons for doing so within the 21 days stated in the article 77 of the Somaliland Constitution. However, the president has neither signed nor vetoed against the amendment passed by the two Houses within the 21 days obligated by the Constitution, and in return, has sent it back to the newly elected speaker of the parliament after the period had already been exhausted.
What is the controversy all about?
The president’s delay of sending the law back to the House of Representative within the obligated period in the Constitution has resulted wide-spread political dispute regarding the legal status of the Law, with some in the government and parliament calling it as officially law binding enactment and that the speaker, who comes from the opposition, has no legal authority but to promulgate the Law as stated in Article 77 of the Constitution which obligates that ‘should the president fail to either sign the law or veto it by sending it back within 21 days, the law will be officially enacted and the speaker has to release it into the official gazette of the House of Representative’.
On the other side of the aisle, the oppositional parties has nullified such case, claiming that the president hasn’t exhausted the 21 days obligated within the constitution, and that in fact, there was a Constitutional vacuum at the time with the vacancy of the speaker position whom they say had only the mandate to receive the president’s note on vetoing against the law; interpreting that the delay hasn’t come as a result of president’s failure to send back the law but instead was cause of constitutional vacuum and in such case, the Article 77 of the Constitution cannot be applied. The members of parliament allied with the opposition are calling for the parliament to consider the amendment of the Law in accordance to the Article 77 of the Constitution. The pro-enactment team has dismissed such interpretation, quashing the existence of Constitutional vacuum as the House of Representative exists as an institution with its full legal existence and that such legal existence cannot be compromised at any situation or period of time given the full functionality of its secretariat. Their stance is that the Law cannot be subjected to further amendments as it is officially law binding enactment.
On 13th Dec 2021, the House of Representatives turned into chaos with its members exchanging fistfights and violent rhetoric evidenced by short clips posted on social media. The situation spiraled out of control when the speaker of the House commenced and then closed the sitting without a full quorum as the majority of members extended their support to the enactment of the Law and refused to attend the parliamentary sitting, denoting that the speaker aimed to force his will to the parliament and has broken the Law by commencing a sitting without a quorum. Police forces were seen at the parliament premises as the members continued the fistfights. Members of the oppositional parties were seen pushing the police forces out of the parliament building using bare hands; such scenarios were widely commented on social media by the public.
From Constitutional point of view: Where will the dispute settle? Where does the public opinion lean?
The vast majority of Somaliland society, independent politicians, and intellectuals believe that the implementation of the Political Parties/Associations Law will give opportunities to the emergence of new faces in the political arena, and that change is needed given how the politics has been monopolized with one-man show during the past ten years. Their discourse evolves around the need for Somalilanders to be given the political authority to make decisions on their political destiny having tolerated so long. The fact that UCID Party leadership has never seen leadership changes during the past twenty years of the party existence where Mr Faisal Ali Hussein has been synonym to the party leader, and whereas, Mr Abdirahman Irro has continued serving as the chairman of Waddani Party up until recent hand over to Mr Hersi Ali Haji Hassan, and President Muse Bihi’s two consecutive election as the chairman of Kulmiye Party; they hold the view that parties’ registration should be enforced in accordant with the Lr.14/2021 which is not subject to fierce dispute.
Members of Parliament Supporting the Enactment of the Law go to the Constitutional Court for Interpretation
On 21st of 2021, the members in the parliament who showed their support to the enactment of the Law has gone to the constitutional court for interpretation regarding the legal status of the Law in dispute. The members has submitted their official request to the court to interpret the elements in the constitution which serve as the core dispute amid rising political tension. The court is expected to rule out whether the article 77 or 78 of the constitution will be applied in this case, which will then answer to the legal status of the Law. The numbers of the members signed with the request exceed to 46 which clarifies to whom does the majority in parliament lean to.
For further clarifications, I have reached out to a well-renowned attorney, Mr Guleid Dafac, to comment on the current dispute concerning the Law of Political Parties/Associations, and he responded with the following:” Article 77(6) of the Constitution states that if the President does not sign or return a Bill submitted by the Parliament within 21 days, the Bill becomes law and shall be promulgated by the Parliament.”
Apart from the legal dispute, it is widely believed that this current disagreement is not only legal but also purely political where the opposing sides in Somaliland politics are at loggerheads over elections scheduled next year, with the oppositional parties openly denouncing the parties/associations election tapping it into a government employed tactic aimed at extending the term of the president by postponing the General Election. The government denies such allegation and accuses the political parties of obstructing democratic rights of Somalilanders to form political parties every ten years by blaming them with conspiring efforts to monopolize as well as paralyse state democracy.
About the Author
Abdikarim Saed Salah is a senior journalist who currently serves As a reporter of Horn Cable T.V Hargeisa, with experience in journalism exceeding 14 years. He holds Bachelor in Journalism & Mass Communications, and Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy Ubiversity of Hargeisa. His interests range from policy advocacy, rule of law & international diplomacy.