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Somalia moves to one-person, one-vote elections

May 28, 2023

After decades of electing leaders through a complex, clan-based system, Somalia's government is set to embrace direct universal suffrage ahead of the next year's vote.

Somali lawmakers start voting to elect next president in Mogadishu
The current voting system is indirect with lawmakers, in part selected by clans, choosing national presidents Image: Abukar Mohamed Muhudin /AA/picture alliance

Somalia's government and federal member states on Sunday announced the introduction of universal voting rights from June 2024.

The development represents a significant move away from the country's clan-based politics toward a more conventional democratic system.

What system was Somalia using?

Somalia has not had such a nationwide system since 1969, when the dictator Siad Barre seized power.

Instead of direct voting, clan affiliations have held sway in Somalia's politics in the decades that followed.

More influential roles, such as speaker, prime minister and president were allocated among the main groups.

National parliament lawmakers, who in turn choose the president, are chosen by state legislatures and clan delegates.

Infografik - Voting Process in Somalia - EN
The system that was used to select the president and government last time around

The fragmented system has led to infighting and exploitation by militant groups like al-Shabab.

Why is this happening now?

Somalia had been due to revert to universal suffrage in 2020 but lengthy wrangling among politicians and a lack of security hampered that development.

The change comes after a fresh pledge in March by President Hassan Sheikh to implement a direct universal one-person, one-vote system. One of the country's regions already held a vote with universal suffrage this week.

But in 2024, the whole country is set to hold local votes under the universal suffrage principle.

State media SONNA reported that the announcement followed a four-day meeting in the capital Mogadishu, chaired by the president.

 "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 hammering out the agreement with state leaders.

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The aim of the reform is to "encourage the multiparty political system" that is independent and "corruption free."

The agreement also sees the implementation of a single presidential ticket for which voters would choose a president and vice-president, effectively doing away with the post of prime minister.

Somalia held its first elections by universal suffrage in decades — a local ballot in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland — on Thursday.

While the  region's electoral commission said there had been unspecified security issues, the UN, the African Union and several neighboring nations hailed the vote as "historic."

rc/dj (Reuters, AFP)