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|International Crisis Group Report On Somaliland Democratization And Its Discontents, Part IX|
International Crisis Group Report On Somaliland Democratization And Its Discontents, Part IX
[Continued from our previous issue]
Kulmiye was not alone in questioning UDUB’s electoral victory. “Everyone, including the cabinet, thought Kulmiye had won,” an NEC member told ICG. “They had a stronger campaign, better propaganda, and they were gaining momentum”. Even UDUB’s leaders anticipated defeat: “They were furious… they felt they’d been robbed of victory,” stated a Parliamentarian who visited the presidency the night before the NEC’s decision. “I first heard that Kulmiye had won,” Rayale told ICG, “and I was preparing to step down”.
Predictably, UDUB’s surprise victory invited accusations of foul play.
As African Rights noted: “The fact that Kulmiye was widely tipped to win, and the perception, rightly or wrongly, that political pressure had been exerted on the NEC on the very day the results were announced, initially led to suspicion and political tension”. But ICG found no evidence to substantiate claims that the outcome was rigged or that the electoral commission bowed to political pressure. On the contrary, the NEC asserted its independence and neutrality with growing confidence throughout the electoral process.
Some of the commission’s decisions clearly damaged UDUB’s prospects more than Kulmiye’s.
For example, despite the NEC’s decision that voting would not take place in part of Sool and eastern Sanaag regions, “The Minister of Sports, a Warsengeli from Dhahar district [eastern Sanaag region] called us to say that everything was ready and we should send the ballot boxes,” a commissioner told ICG. “We told him that the decision of the commission had been taken and that no one could change it, not even the president. And the president himself was unhappy about it”.
Similarly, when the commission learned that the president and the vice president were campaigning with the national flag, it notified UDUB in writing that this contravened the electoral law and made statements to the press and television. Instructions were then to local governments and the police explaining that vehicles bearing the national flag could not be used for the campaign. Even more damaging to UDUB’s prospects was the commission’s decision to rotate personnel between polling stations in order to prevent ballot stuffing.
During the local elections, “we discovered that the polling station was the key to a clean election. […] We realised that if the presiding officers and staff were all from the same area, it was a problem. We didn’t have the money to change them all so we just shifted them around”. The results were dramatic: despite an increase of 58,572 in the overall number of voters, some regions experienced a precipitous drop-off – a difference that many observers attributed to controls on ballot stuffing.
In Hargeysa’s rural Salaxaley district, a UCID stronghold, where reports of ballot stuffing in the local elections had been rife, the total number of votes cast fell from roughly 23,000 in December 2002 to just over 13,000 in April 2003. As one Commissioner put it, “ten thousand people just evaporated”. In Rayale’s home region of Awdal, where over 100,000 votes had been cast in local elections, just 68,396 votes were cast in the presidential poll; UDUB’s vote count in Awdal fell by more than 15,000.
The most serious allegation levelled at the NEC is that it actually doctored the election results in order to award victory to UDUB. Between the evening of 18 April and mid-day on the morning of the 19th, when the preliminary results were announced, a delegation led by the speakers of the two houses of Parliament (known as the shirguddoon) shuttled several times between the presidency and the NEC offices. Since the Parliament had no mandate to intervene in the electoral process, its last-minute activity raised eyebrows: “If [the NEC] had wanted to avoid any suggestion of political interference, they would have refused to see the Guurti,” Rakiya Omaar told ICG.
Abdulqadir Haji Ismail Jirdeh, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and a member of the parliamentary team, concurred that the shirguddoon lacked a mandate to become involved, but argued that on the eve of the NEC’s announcement the political temperature had reached the boiling point. Kulmiye’s leadership had already declared victory, and while Silanyo’s supporters celebrated late into the night of 18 April, Rayale called the shirguddoon to the presidency to denounce the NEC’s conduct. Fearing that events might spin out of control, the parliamentarians decided to head off a crisis: “We had no legal basis on which to intervene,” Jirdeh told ICG, “but in the interests of peace and security we felt we had a moral obligation”.
The shirguddoon visited the commission late in the evening of the 18th and proposed a meeting with party representatives the following morning in order to defuse some of the political tension. The Commission agreed and the meeting went ahead the following morning with senior party representatives from each in attendance. Of the issues raised, the most sensitive was the NEC’s seemingly arbitrary disqualification of ballot boxes.
“There was no discussion of numbers at all,” Jirdeh told ICG. “We didn’t ask and they didn’t volunteer it. Who was leading, who wasn’t leading… the issue didn’t come up”. The meeting concluded with the NEC’s reiteration of its decision not to open any previously disqualified ballot boxes.
Kulmiye was delighted with the outcome of the meeting, since the disqualified ballot boxes came mainly from pro-UDUB constituencies, but UDUB was incensed. When the shirguddon returned to the presidency to brief Rayale, “Some of [the UDUB leaders] became hysterical,” Jirdeh told ICG. “They told us: ‘This issue is leading to conflict. Can’t you stop the electoral commission? Annul the results? Postpone the results?’ We answered them point blank: ‘Forget about it. If you have any complaints, get them ready for the Supreme Court. The only person who was calm was Rayale. He told his people to leave him alone to get some rest and to prepare the complaints for the court”.
Given the circumstances, the NEC’s announcement, just hours later, that UDUB had won the election, came as a surprise to all concerned, and there are excellent grounds upon which to question the authenticity of the outcome: thousands of valid votes remained uncounted in sealed ballot boxes because of procedural errors by inexperienced NEC staff. Errors in the NEC’s tabulation of the results raise doubts about whether they got their sums right. As African Rights later observed:
A multiplicity of miscalculations – some favouring Udub, others Kulmiye – cannot, as the Commission seems to believe, create a balance of political misfortune. Rather they undermine the political system as a whole, leaving ordinary Somalilanders perplexed about whether and how their vote was counted.
The NEC’s errors had earned such criticism, but inexperience and incompetence do not necessarily amount to rigging. Instead, NEC’s fumbling of the tally reduced the election essentially to a game of chance – a coin toss. Had just one ballot box more or less been opened, UDUB and Kulmiye might have traded places. Whether or not more voters actually cast their ballots for UDUB or Kulmiye will probably never be known. But games of chance can be fair, as long as all players face the same odds, and there is no evidence to suggest that, for all its flaws, the conduct of Somaliland’s presidential poll on 14 April 2003 was anything but fair.
To be continued next week.