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NORDEM Report 03/2006
Somaliland: Elections For The Lower House Of Parliament September 2005
Report by Ragnhild Hollekim, Stig Jarle Hansen and Geir Moe Sørensen
NORDEM, the Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and Human Rights, is a program of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), and has as its main objective to actively promote international human rights. NORDEM is jointly administered by the NCHR and the Norwegian Refugee Council. NORDEM works mainly in relation to multilateral institutions. The operative mandate of the program is realized primarily through the recruitment and deployment of qualified Norwegian personnel to international assignments, which promote democratization and respect for human rights. The program is responsible for the training of personnel before deployment, reporting on completed assignments, and plays a role in research related to areas of active involvement. The vast majority of assignments are channeled through the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
NORDEM Report is a series of reports documenting NORDEM activities and is published jointly by NORDEM and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.
Series editor: Siri Skåre
Series consultants: Hege Mørk, Christian Boe Astrup
The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher(s).
ISSN 10: 1503–1330
ISBN 13: 978-82-8158-013-8
The NORDEM Report is available online at:
NORDEM, The Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and Human Rights, was asked by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to identify a team of three experts who could carry out an assessment of the Elections for the Lower House of the Somaliland Parliament in the autumn of 2005. NORDEM nominated election expert Ms. Ragnhild Hollekim, political scientist and Somaliland expert Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen and diplomatic expert Mr. Geir Moe Sørensen for the assignment.
Members of the team stayed in Somaliland between September 3 and October 5, 2005. The objective of the mission has been to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the electoral process, assessed against international standards, among these Article 25 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966 in which eight democratic principles are established: periodic elections; universal and equal suffrage; right to stand for public office; right to vote; secret ballot and genuine elections allowing for the free expression of the will of the people. Key elements considered were degree of impartiality shown by Electoral Administration, freedom to assemble and express views, fair access to state resources, fair access to media, specifically public media, universal franchise offered to voters, issues concerning the democratic nature of elections such as campaign violence, rule of law, legislative framework and the electoral environment and the conduct of the polling and counting of votes. The team has followed the methodology for good observation practice outlined in the NORDEM Manual for Human Rights Monitoring; Election Observation.
The NORDEM team operated independently from other international observers. The team would like to thank the Somaliland Government, the National Election Commission and electoral office holders, politicians, the NGO and media representatives and all others who willingly shared information and impressions during the course of our stay. Last but not least, we would like to express thanks for the hospitality of the Somaliland people.
The report is based on the observations made by the Norwegian observers. All opinions expressed in the report are the authors’ responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.
The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights / NORDEM University of Oslo
Somaliland, a war-torn region and since 1992 a self-declared state that has not received international recognition, has with limited foreign assistance managed to establish peace and stability over the last nine years. A system of governance has been adopted, District Council Elections were conducted in December 2002, and a Presidential Election held in April 2003, important moves towards further democratic development in a region that has little experience with this governing form. The recent Election for the Lower House of Parliament further supports democracy building in Somaliland and was a genuine effort to conduct a democratic electoral process. In spite of limited resources (logistical challenges included) and little experience, and a process falling short of several international standards for elections, the representatives of the Lower House of Parliament in Somaliland have for the first time been chosen by the ballot in an election that took place in a peaceful and largely competitive environment. In parts of Sanag, Sool and Toghdeer (disputed areas in regions bordering Puntland) voting could not take place, both because of variable support for an election and security reasons.
The election was conducted under a legislative framework that to a certain extent can provide for the conduct of democratic elections. There are important elements that need to be addressed to ensure full compliance of the legislative framework with international human rights and democratic standards. Constitutional provisions based on religion resulting in unacceptable disenfranchisement on the part of the electorate need to be removed so as to secure non-discrimination practices and equal rights for all citizens. There is a constitutional provision limiting the number of political parties in Somaliland to three. There are no provisions for a review or an opening for new parties to enter the competition for political power. A principle such as freedom of organization is therefore not properly adhered to, and allowing three political parties only and for an indefinite time period limits political plurality and choice for the electorate at large. There are further gaps and contradictions in the Election Law, also due to last moment changes in the spring of 2005, and a lack of a final legal review of the text.
No census/voter registration or delineation of new constituency borders had been conducted for this election. With the available resources, this seemed at the time impossible to conduct. A strict demand for voter registration would also inevitably have led to yet another postponement of the election for Lower House of Parliament.
However, this meant that the NEC for the 2005 Parliamentary election had neither the information to stipulate voter turnout, nor the tools to assure reasonably equal numbers of voters behind each seat in Parliament. No ID cards meant there were no formal means of establishing who was eligible to vote on Polling Day. In order to secure that a much awaited election for the Lower House of Parliament could take place as planned in 2005, the amended Election Law allows this election only to take place before a population census and a voter registration are conducted.
The Election Administration at all levels faced a number of administrative and logistical challenges, due to limited resources and little experience with elections. The NORDEM team found the National Election Commission (NEC) to be working in an impartial/independent manner, and taking context into consideration, also for part of the process with reasonable efficiency (for reconciliation/counting and tabulation process, see separate paragraph below).
The nomination process (with verification of fulfillment of relevant conditions, according to the House of Representatives Election Law, left to the parties and the NEC) was for the most part quite heavily influenced by clans, and clan support (also financially) seemed to be necessary to successfully run a campaign and finally win a seat. This contributed to imbalances in the resources available to candidates, making it difficult for some candidates more than others to fully reach the electorate.
Parties and candidates were for the most part able to campaign freely and actively and the fundamental freedom of expression was respected. Cases of interference and intimidation from government authorities/the incumbent party were reported, but these were relatively few in number and did not, as far as the NORDEM team observed, to a large extent inhibit campaign work or cause serious injuries or casualties. There were frequent reports of the use of state assets (mostly cars) by the incumbent party UDUB and on several occasions the NORDEM team also observed this. The incumbent party at times resorted to extremely negative language (black PR) during campaign speeches.
On Polling Day, voters turned out in large numbers and in a peaceful manner, eager to cast their votes. The increase in voter turnout since the 2003 Presidential Election was approximately 35%. Together with a hard working polling staff, party agents, domestic observers and security personnel, everyone was eager to make the election a success. A number of polling stations opened late (1/2 hour – 1 hour) due to late deliveries of materials from the District Election Office. Voting took place in an open and transparent manner. Procedures were followed to some extent, but were also often departed from, most likely due to pressure on resources (too few staff) and lack of experience/sufficient training. There was extensive (illegal) transport of voters on Polling Day and widespread attempts at double (multiple) voting. The NORDEM team questions to what extent attempts at double voting succeeded in the end.
Serious lack of secrecy of the ballot was observed, with voting often taking place openly, where everyone present could see or hear the voter’s choice. The reasons for this were mainly due to the fact that a large portion of the electorate is illiterate and in need of assistance, in combination with pressure on resources, such as too few staff. The integrity of the ballot is an important democratic principle, important also in Somaliland where voting by clan seems to be expected and may leave voters vulnerable to, at best, being frowned upon, at worst, more serious forms of intimidation.
In downtown Burao, the NORDEM team observed hundreds of voters being chased away at 6 pm while executing their constitutional right, waiting in line to vote. Incidents like this seriously limit democratic rights such as the full exercise of suffrage. The counting and tabulation process turned out to be especially complicated and time consuming. Insufficient competence, and/or diligence and attention (also due to exhaustion) devoted to the reconciliation of votes during counting procedures, caused many problems during the tabulation process. Seemingly, extensive recounts took place at district levels in all regions, resulting in preliminary results not being announced by the NEC before 15 October and final results by the Constitutional Court on 1 November, more than a month after Polling Day. The NORDEM team questions the large turnout of voters and the extensive support for the incumbent party (UDUB) in parts of the Awdal Region. There may have been factors affecting the final results also in other regions, but not to the extent that one would have expected a markedly different outcome.
The NORDEM team observed an open and outspoken free press in Somaliland. The free press has however very little coverage, and domestically based private broadcasting companies are still not allowed in Somaliland, as such limiting the plurality of the political debate. Somaliland National TV was heavily biased in favor of the incumbent party/government; Hargeysa Radio was more balanced but still to a certain extent favored the incumbent party in their news coverage.
Out of 246 nominated candidates, only 7 were women. In the end, only 2 women managed to win a seat in the Lower House of Parliament. Women in Somaliland carry major responsibilities, including to an increasing extent being the breadwinner of the family and were to an unreasonable extent marginalized in this election. The political parties’ failure to support and propose female candidates, the patriarchal clan lineage system, the strong role of the clans in the nomination process and the need for clan support to successfully run a campaign were all effective obstacles for women seeking political influence through a seat in Parliament.
The civil society in Somaliland worked extensively to maintain peace, educate the electorate and increase the legitimacy of the election by training and deploying 600 domestic observers, succeeding in covering approximately 60% of the polling stations on Polling Day. Recognizing the challenges regarding successful voter and civic education in Somaliland and the NEC’s and civil society’s efforts to educate the electorate, voter education programs in general were not adequate for the 2005 Parliamentary Election. A number of informal and formal complaints were filed, most of these addressed and solved orally and informally (and also often successfully) through an Election Monitoring Board. The Election Law does not clearly state what is regarded as an electoral offence. It is understandable that the complaint and appeal system has weaknesses, considering Somaliland’s short history of institution building. Several serious concerns can be raised on this issue, such as the question of efficiency and proficiency, level of transparency and finally and most importantly, to what extent real action is taken. The political parties announced jointly on 23 October that they had decided to withdraw all complaints, both because they at large were pleased with how the election had been conducted and for the sake of the country “the most important thing being the quest for (international) recognition”.
The NORDEM team’s term of reference was to assess the electoral process only. It was not within the team’s mandate to have an opinion on the question of international recognition for Somaliland.
To be continued ….
Copyright: the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights/NORDEM (and author(s)).