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Did President Riyale Come To Power By Accident Or By Design?
By Mukhtar Mohamed Abby
Having served for so long in late president Egal's shadow, his leadership skills were an unknown quantity beyond his being a good listener who speaks little and whose behavior in public seems stilted. Since Riyale, the incumbent president had not been in the political arena prior to his vice- presidency - he had been essentially unpopular figure across the country let alone internationally. He was overshadowed by the late president, and the father of nation, Mohamed H. Ibrahim Egal, who had been in the political arena for more than five decades. President Riyale was bereft of all oratorical skills and all sorts of political experience; he did not have a political decisiveness and guts to confront with the challenges faced by him during his vice presidency.
Many people who are not conversant with the politics of nascent Republic of Somaliland especially those non Somalilanders are presumably gobsmacked by the fashion in which such least qualified president had come to power as president of Somaliland. President Riyale took the helm of the country thanks to the death of his predecessor – Mohamed H. Ibrahim Egal, who died on 3 May 2002 while undergoing surgery in South Africa.
When the news of the president Egal's death reached Hargeysa, the leaders of Somaliland's three councils (the two chambers of Parliament and the Council of Ministers) met to decide upon a course of action. Article 130 of the constitution stipulated that in the event of the president's death prior to the adoption of a multiparty electoral system, the Parliament should elect a new President within 45 days. In the meantime, the speaker of the House of Elders should serve as interim Chief Executive. It was an arrangement some believed was intended to preclude the accession of the vice-president, Dahir Riyale, a Gadabursi, to the Presidency. "President Egal wanted to replace Riyale and establish a new team for the next government," a politician close to late president Egal explained to the International Crisis Group known as ICG." He – president Egal didn't want to leave the system as it was. In the wake of the referendum he even called some Samaroon elders and asked them who else they might suggest as vice- president.
The leaders managing the transition were less concerned with palace intrigues than with avoiding a political vacuum. Whether it was by accident or design, they set aside Article 139 of the constitution an opted instead to apply Article 89(intended to come into effect only after the first elections), which states that the vice-president shall assume the office of the presidency for the remainder of the term. By sunset on 3 May, Riyale had been sworn in as interim president until March 2003, and Somaliland had successfully navigated its first constitutional transition.
President Riyale’s maiden speech as interim President
Thousands of people young and old thronged to the Kheyria square in the capital of Republic of Somaliland – Hargeysa in order to witness to the maiden speech being delivered by the interim president of Somaliland, Dahir Riyale Kahin. Everybody was extremely interested in Riyale’s speech, because it was his first ever speech as president so this has invited a large scale gathering at the Kheyria square. Luckily, I had been one of those audiences who thronged there to witness to the maiden speech of the interim president. More importantly, it was even difficult for some people to pronounce his name accurately, because this indicates that he was unpopular in the political circle.
President Riyale seemed calm, cautious optimism in his speech, but was little jittery despite the fact that it was his inaugural speech being made to such gigantic throng that congregated at the Kheyria premises. In his inaugural address, president Riyale has made several promises the most prominent pledges were: the extension of administration to the eastern regions of Somaliland, judicial reforms and holding Presidential and Municipal polls as intended.
In mid – 2002,president Riyale declared judicial reforms as one of his top priorities, and ordered a bold shake- up of the justice system. The initiative was unpopular with sitting judges, but was warmly welcomed by a public exasperated by the judiciary's deterioration to state of "an open market where 'justice' is sold to the highest bidder." As part of reform effort, president Riyale appointed a new Chief Justice, Said Farah Ahmed and established an advisory Committee on the judiciary, which six judges described as unconstitutional and subsequently resigned. Riyale then booted the four remained members to the Apex bench. Therefore, in April 2003, when the Supreme Court was called upon to hand down judgment on the National Election Commission's decision, there were severe justices on the bench, all of them appointed by Riyale. Not surprisingly, many Somalilanders concluded (to paraphrase the American columnist Thomas Friedman's assessment of the 2000 American Presidential election) that the justices voted twice for president – once in April and once in May.
By fulfilling some of his promises, president Riyale visited to Lascanod in December 2002, which ended in a shoot-out between his bodyguards and militia sent by the former leader of Somali semi autonomous region of Puntland, Abdillahi Yusuf to liquidate him, reinforced the Dhulbahante sense of alienation. After the visit, Riyale imposed a state of emergence on Sool region, only to lift it in time for the local elections.
In the aftermath of his abortive visit to Lascanod, Riyale gave orders that certain Somaliland officials should be withdrawn to the nearby town of Caynabo, ostensibly in order to thwart provoking a further clash. The resulting vacuum permitted the Puntland leadership to expand its presence in town.
President Riyale wins the Presidential polls
On 14 April 2003, the people pf Somaliland enjoyed an experience all too rare in the Horn of Africa: an election without a predetermined outcome. The re-election of the incumbent President, Dahir Riyale Kahin, came as a surprise for a number of reasons: first, because of the razor thin margin of his victory, secondly, because he is not a member of Somaliland's majority clan. Thirdly, because the opposition was tipped to win.
Somaliland's Presidential elections was remarkable for other reasons as well: it was the second election since December 2002, after a democratic hiatus of 32 years, and third time in as many years that Somalilanders have been given the opportunity to express their preference at the ballot box. These first bold steps towards democratization set Somaliland apart from the rest of Somalia Republic, which has become virtually synonymous with the term "failed state" since the collapse of Siyad Barre's despotic regime in 1991. At a time when the Horn of Africa has been described as home to some of the "world's worst regimes."
Long before polling day, it was clear that outcome of the Presidential election would be a close call. But when on the afternoon of 19 April, the National Election commission finally declared the preliminary results; the margin of victory was uncomfortably thin: UDUB had won by only 80 votes.
Prior to the elections, party leaders on all sides had committed themselves to abide by the electoral outcome. But the NEC's wobbly calculations which involved errors, omissions and the disqualification of over a dozen ballot boxes invited controversy. Both Kulmiye and UDUB cried foul and began to prepare complaints for submission at the Apex court, which was scheduled to announce the definitive result on 8 May.
Kulmiye's initial challenge which it presented at a Hargeysa press conference on 23 April was deceptively simple: NEC had simply botched its math and erroneously dropped 156 Kulmiye's votes. Using the NEC's own figures, Kulmiye reckoned it had actually won the election by 76 votes. But the commission stuck by its figures, and argued that, even if mistakes had been made, only the Apex court could now revise the preliminary election results. Its final report on the process asserts:
The preliminary results were just that… preliminary results. The final authority of declaring the winner of the election is the Supreme Court. The framers of the electoral law, the Parliament, recognized this system which provides the parties with a legal forum to present their grievances in the event they decide to contest the preliminary results. Procedurally speaking, the commission's position was solid, but its refusal to review its won figures in light of Kulmiye's allegations drew angry charges that the commissioners had just "passed the buck" and awakened suspicion of their motives.
Apex Court Verdict
The responsibility for passing final judgment on the election fell to the highest organ of Somaliland's judiciary: the Supreme Court. Both Kulmiye and UDUB presented their grievances in writing to the Apex court, which then sought clarification from the NEC. On the basis of this information, the Court then conducted open hearings the representative of political parties and the NEC lawyers.
In arriving at a judgment, the Court essentially faced two options: either to uphold the figures announced by the NEC on 19 April, or to order a recount. A third option, to assess whether specific ballot boxes had been justly or unjustly disqualified, would have been fairer to Somaliland's voters by ensuring that no vote was unnecessarily wasted, but it also threatened to open a Pandora's box of claims and counterclaims, probably requiring a delay of weeks, of not months, before a final decision could be reached. The Court, however, identified an unexpected fourth option: to present, without elucidation, a different set of figures: UDUB had won the election not only by 80 votes, but by 217. Since the Court offered no explanation for the change, its 11 May verdict raised more questions than it answered and opened the Court to accusation of political bias. Indeed, Somaliland's judiciary has spent most of the past decade mired in incompetence, corruption and political interference. A recent report by a local research Organization found the judiciary to be "the most neglected and under-funded of the three orders of the government," and described its application of the law as "ad hoc, non-uniform, and highly subjective."
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 strong campaign, better propaganda, and they were gaining momentum." Even UDUB's leaders anticipated defeat:" They were furious… they felt they had 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," Riyale told ICG, "and I was preparing to step down."
However, the blame fell upon Kulmiye whose leadership steadfastly refused to accept defeat." The problem is that this is a system that only knows one way to work; it's not ready for pluralism," one party activist told ICG, justifying the party's position. "This was a government that chose its own Parliament, named the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, then became a political party and arranged its own re-election. It was the judge, jury and executioner. Where is the democracy in that?" Kulmiye's chairman, Sillanyo, however, seemed anxious to downplay fears that the party's truculence night turn to violence:
I am a reasonable man and a man of peace. If I was alone and it was my decision alone, I could afford to say "fine, that is the way it happened and let's move on." But I am not alone … some of my supporters say "Why don't you just form a (parallel) government?" But I won't go down that road, because no one can guarantee that we won't end up like Mogadishu.
On 16 May 2003, Riyale was sworn in as Somaliland's president in a low- key ceremony at State House from which opposition leaders were absent. UCID, satisfied with its unexpectedly robust third place finish, quickly announce its acceptance of the results. But when Kulmiye rejected the outcome and declared the court's decision illegitimate, Somalilanders at home and abroad held breath, fearful the worst. About a month later Kulmiye accepted the defeat and congratulated the newly elect president, Dahir Riyale Kahin.
Being a Gadabursi has worked both for and against Riyale. Many Somalilanders are proud of that their political system has produced a leader from a minority clan- something that no other part of Somalia, nor even Djibouti, has managed to do. Others believe that Riyale offers better prospects for Somaliland's peace and stability than an Isaaq president since the destructive intra-Isaaq power struggles of the 1990s can be set aside. But a significant number of Majority clan (Isaaq) resent seeing a Gadabursi lead the country, among the Harti of eastern of Somaliland, the notion of a minority President is also unpopular. Some simply feel that a Gadabursi president lacks the political clout to lead." Riyale cannot run this country," a Kulmiye's party activist told ICG." He is from a minority clan and cannot take tough decisions."
However, whether president Riyale came to power by accident or by design his days are numbered, and now he has lost the confidence of the masses of Somaliland - be it in and outside of the country. The vast majority of people of Somaliland are giving their eyeteeth for a regime change which is the need of the hour and at this juncture, people see to it that change is inevitable. People should know that the ballot box is more powerful than the bullet therefore; they should change the current unpopular government that failed on every front by exercising their franchise at the ballot box.
By Mukhtar Mohamed Abby
India, Karnataka State.