Somalia’s government and federal member states said Sunday that direct universal suffrage would be introduced with local elections set for June 2024.
The move follows a pledge by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in March to end a complex indirect system in place since 1969.
“The basic principles should be that the election of the Federal Somali Republic must be one that gives the public the opportunity to cast their votes democratically in a one-person, one-vote system,” the government said after reaching an agreement with state leaders.
The reform aims to “encourage the multiparty political system” that is independent and “corruption free“, it added.
Somalia is struggling to emerge from decades of conflict and chaos but is battling a bloody Islamist insurgency and natural disasters including a punishing drought that has left millions facing hunger.
The country has not had one-person, one-vote elections nationwide since 1969 when the dictator Siad Barre seized power.
Instead, clan affiliations have been the organizing principle of Somalia’s politics, with influential roles such as speaker, prime minister, and president divided among the main groups.
State legislatures and clan delegates also pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
But rivalries between the clans have resulted in decades of strife and political wrangling, which in recent years have been exploited by the Al-Shabaab militants linked to Al-Qaeda.
Perhaps the most significant article in the agreement is the restructuring of the leadership system by abolishing the premiership.
In its place, the leaders endorsed a presidential system, with the president and vice president of the country elected directly on a single ticket.
The same applies to the regional presidents and their respective vice presidents.
The endorsement of a presidential system will require a federal constitutional amendment, as the current constitution provides for a parliamentary system in which lawmakers elect a president, who then appoints a prime minister.
Critics have argued for a long time that the parliamentary system brought endless political squabbles between the president and prime minister.
If popular elections take place nationwide next year, that will end a controversial clan-based system known as “the 4.5,” which has been used for power-sharing since 2000.
That system allowed four main clans to have equal shares in parliament, while a group of smaller clans got half of the share.
The last election based on the 4.5 system brought Mohamud to power in May of last year.
Minister for Interior, Federal, and Reconciliation Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, who read the communique hailed the agreement as “one step forward.”
“This is a historic agreement which brings an end to the system used since 2000,” he told VOA Somali.
“It gives the Somalis the opportunity to have their say and entrust their vote with those representing them at different levels of local, regional, and federal governments.”
The communique did not address what happens when the current president’s term ends on May 15, 2026.
But Fiqi said that next year’s election will be considered a “midterm” election, where those elected will hold their posts for two years, until 2026, when the election calendar for both local, regional, and federal levels will be unified.
Opponents call agreement ‘unconstitutional’
The new agreement was quickly criticized by some politicians who argued it would give term extensions to regional leaders whose terms in office currently end within months.
“Tonight’s communique by the National Consultative Council is an affront to Somalia’s provisional constitutional and the supremacy of our national laws,” said Mursal M. Khaliif, a member of the Federal Parliament.
“Whatever it’s called, this is an unconstitutional term extension for the Federal Member States and the Federal Government.”
The agreement was not signed by the president of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, Said Abdullahi Deni.
Puntland this week held local council elections in which the people voted to elect their representatives, an exercise the rest of the country is working to emulate next year if this agreement is implemented.