- Those eager to read how the current seven political associations and parties become three constitutional ones will have to curb their enthusiasm for the moment. First the Burao issue highlighted last week seems to have got sorted by the provision of 89,000 extra ballot papers and the introduction of a two-stream system inside polling stations in western Burao i.e. doubling the number of ballot boxes in certain polling stations. We wait to see from forthcoming observations how this will work. With the way the sexes divide (four queues, plus seven party agents, six polling staff, domestic and international observers) it could get as right crowded and hot as a broken down summer Tube train (for international readers – an archaic form of underground London transport).
Meanwhile the setpiece of our trip was a small IEO delegation calling on the president and three ministers at the presidential palace. Once we had kitted out one of the team with a spare tie, we were able to put forward concerns – mostly those raised by political parties, such as arrests of their candidates, allegations that candidates were being paid to withdraw their candidacies. We were also keen to track down the Presidential Decree calling on political parties not to have civil servants campaigning or to use state resources for political party/ association purposes. We duly received a copy along with assurances it was being followed.
The President, ministers and leaders of the governing Kulmiye party vigorously denied allegations of use of state funds on this and other occasions. Some of this dispute revolves around the nature of a civil servant. Ministers and political appointees are generally allowed to campaign, whereas civil servants are not. The most significant controversy has surrounded the head of the Aids Commission (SOLNAC) campaigning for the governing party. Government members argued he was a political appointee, others seeing him as a non-political appointment. On candidate arrests, according to the government one of these instances was an intra-clan battle over which candidate had clan support, which led one to use intemperate language (possibly anti-religious). They claim that other arrests have been due to violations of the Code of Conduct, including campaigning on unauthorised days. The meeting was cordial and the President promised to address our concerns that the way the three political parties were voted for should be much more transparent and more widely understood.
Which segues neatly into Law 14, Article 6, rather a mundane title for something which could provoke a bit of bother. This is the mechanism that determines which of the seven political associations/parties has successfully won the right to become one of the three constitutionally-mandated political parties for the next ten years. The chosen seven out of fifteen that originally applied have to contest all regions (although not all districts) and the system has a deliberately inbuilt rural bias. Hargeisa/Maroodi Jeex region with nearly half of all seats (175) would otherwise dominate. Any association/party that gets 20% or more in a region is eligible to become one of the three political parties (depending on other regional results). The winner, if there are several with 20% or more in each region, is the one with the highest percentage. That party is awarded a rank score of 1 in that region, with each party ranked/scored in order. This count is then repeated through the next five regions. The party/association with the lowest aggregate score is deemed to be the top qualifying party, and those with the next two lowest scores take the second and third spots available.
Problems, of course, could arise if parties get unequal support across regions but build up large numbers of votes in toto. In that case, it is conceivable they may complain at missing the cut in spite of receiving large numbers of votes. It is also quite likely that at least the third-placed party (maybe all?) will struggle to get 20% in all regions. The Supreme Court is on standby to rule on such issues (or at least it has been advised to be so by an outside negotiator). While the electoral provisions are reasonably clear, it is quite likely that they are not widely understood by the public – a situation not helped by the division of labour between the electoral commission and the Registration and Approval Committee which announces the three party winners. Glad that’s clear then.
According to our vox pop in the streets, circumspectly talking to voters, there is a high degree of awareness of the election – difficult to avoid as public campaigning has restarted with its usual exuberance, especially from young women (readers with long memories will remember Blog 1 on this). There also appears a high degree of party/ association recognition. We were struck by a youngish lad volunteering the information ‘I’m going to vote for the woman candidate’ – perhaps the attempts to create a women/ youth coalition are paying off?
The parties sport different colours which bear some relationship to clan allegiance. Some stand out more than the others that rely on the more religious colour of green. Waddani looks like an Orangeman’s sash, Xaqsoor (pronounced like a useful item in your toolbox) is yellow and white like the Papal flag (how are we doing on a swerve through religious tolerance here?). RAYS pronounced ‘rice’ looks like the Spanish flag and by comparison Umadda has a sideways-on Indonesian one. In the interests of impartiality we also mention here Kulmiye, the governing party, DALSAN and New Ucid – the latter sporting an emblem -of a sheep being weighed, as used in licensed premises named ‘The Fleece’ (though not widely seen in Hargeisa).
Most of the core team is now here and we have begun briefings for the wider team on electoral process (with a walk through a mock polling station guided by a couple Aussie election experts), code of conduct for observers, radio training, security, media awareness, political context and the like. Accreditation and then deployment out to the regions comes soon.
OK five days to go. Hang on to your (election observer) hats…