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Discussions on Democratic Rights held across Somalia
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Discussions on Democratic Rights held across Somalia

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People’s ability to influence the future of their country by exercising their democratic rights was a topic of public discussions across Somalia in the last two months.

The public discussions held in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Kismayo, Garowe, and Jowhar in October and November brought together members of civil society representing women, youth, elders, persons with disabilities, minorities, and marginalized groups, as well as local media.

Participants spoke about the need for one-person, one-vote elections rather than the current indirect elections that limit voters’ rights to elect leaders of their choice.

They agreed that direct elections would benefit the country.

“We hope that our country will fully embrace democracy by adopting the one person, one vote model,” said Fartun Aden Hayefow, Chairperson of the Middle Shabelle Youth Association, addressing the audience gathered in Jowhar.

“Everyone eligible should be able to contest or vote for the candidate of their choice. If this happens, it will be a huge opportunity for the youth to contest political positions. In addition, any government elected by the majority will be more responsive to the electorate’s needs,” Hayefow added.

In the discussions, the opinions of the various groups about the future of democratic rights in Somalia often echoed each other.

“For this country to move forward and for our government to have real legitimacy, we need to have a one-person, one-vote election in which every eligible citizen participates. Our democracy will be strengthened if we hold universal, free, and fair elections. Indirect elections take away the legitimacy from our government,” said Garaad Abdullahi Ducaale, a clan elder from Mogadishu.

Since 2004, Somalia has been holding indirect elections through which traditional leaders select clan delegates, who elect parliament members.

The members of parliament then elect the president of the country.

These clan elders work under the 4.5 system, which gives the country’s four major clans the same weight, while a group of minority clans gets the remaining half a point.

Some criticized this method during the discussions for excluding the majority of Somalis from direct voting.

Somalia has one the world’s biggest ‘youth bulges’ – that is, around 60 percent of its estimated population of 16 million people is under 30, according to the World Population Prospects, produced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The significant number of young people means a greater need to deal with challenges related to their education, employment, and various other issues, including their representation in the political and government spheres.

“If we adopt the one person, one vote method, capable young people will no longer have to go through clan elders. Direct elections will offer an avenue for us to be elected on the strength of our campaign strategies and the manifesto presented to the people,” said student leader Muya Mizan Muya on the sidelines of the public discussion in Kismayo, Jubaland State.

Creating an enabling environment for persons living with disabilities to fully participate in political processes as candidates or voters featured prominently during the discussions.

“I want to run for political office, but I am at a disadvantage because I am visually impaired and come from a small clan with no power or say on who is elected as our representative in the 0.5. The only chance I have is if direct elections take place,” said Dalmar Adow Maalin, a 32-year-old visually impaired aspiring politician from Mogadishu.

Based on the provisional constitution adopted in 2012, the electoral process stipulates that women must make up at least 30 percent of the seats in parliament.

However, there are no policies or laws to protect this quota, a situation made worse by the power of the traditional leaders and religious scholars under the 4.5 clan formula.

Fatima Mohamed Ahmed, a women’s representative in Jowhar, Hirshabelle State, said that a country could not make progress if it left the majority of its people (i.e., women) unrepresented and kept away from decision-making processes in matters that affect these people’s lives.

“We need to move away from indirect elections to one person, one vote so that women can freely campaign for political office or vote for candidates of their choice,” she added.

The public discussions, supported by UNSOM, are part of ongoing efforts to promote the inclusion of all Somalis in having a say in the future of their country.

The UN and international partners are committed to continuing to provide political, financial, technical, and logistical support to Somalia’s electoral process.