Political tensions are heating up in Puntland, a semiautonomous Federal Member State in northeastern Somalia, amid a dispute over a controversial proposal by the state’s leader Said Abdullahi Deni to amend the state’s constitution raising risk of violence in the region.
The amendment proposal seeks to expand the number of political parties from three to five, with the objective of rectifying the current imbalance where all three parties represent a single sub-clan. However, Deni’s decision has faced strong criticism from the opposition, who perceive it as an overt power grab and a calculated maneuvers by the state leader to provoke a constitutional crisis that could upend the region’s established image of stability.
The development has also raised concerns over potential risk of violence breaking out in the region due to the approval of the president’s proposed constitutional amendments by the regional parliament, a move widely seen to have effectively shut down all avenues for dialogue, thereby bringing Puntland on the brink.
The region’s upcoming elections already remains a contentious issue between the President and his political rivals who are locked in a bitter dispute over how to hold the forthcoming local elections that are currently scheduled to take place by the 25th May.
A total of 33 districts spanning across 7 regions will be involved in this electoral process, with 3775 candidates representing seven political associations. Over 400 thousand voters will have the opportunity to elect their local government representatives.
Underscoring the growing political tensions, a powerful coalition of political leaders in Puntland, including former presidents, has firmly expressed their opposition to the President’s proposed constitutional amendments, also seeing these changes as an endeavour to extend the president’s term from the existing five years.
Influential leaders have warned that the president’s attempts carry the risk of destabilising the region, with a long history of stability and smooth transfer of power throughout Somalia’s prolonged conflict, unlike the country’s south which is recovering from decades of devastating bloody civil unrest.
According to the state’s Constitution, the term of a president is currently set at five years. However, the proposed amendment aims to extend this term beyond 8th Jan, 2024, opposition leaders said, warning that it could potentially result in turmoil.
Meanwhile, this move which has sparked a series of debates and triggered political crisis could result in the following possible scenarios that could shape the future of the region;
Indirect Election Model: One possible outcome is the implementation of an indirect election system, wherein delegates would be responsible for electing Members of Parliament (MPs). This would represent a departure from the current system which gives unlimited powers to the traditional elders, locally known as ‘Isimo’ to singlehandedly select the next members of the Parliament.
Term Extension: Another scenario is a two-year extension with universal suffrage among the five parties, if the Constitution is successfully amended. This option would allow for broader representation and potentially foster a more inclusive political environment.
Status Quo: However, if political elites have joined forces in an attempt to prevent Said Deni from implementing his proposed amendment, the status quo would likely prevail, and the election would proceed as scheduled on January 8.
The Incumbent: Despite facing mounting pressure, President Said Abdullahi Deni remains resolute in prioritizing his re-election campaign, as evidenced by his recent large rally in Galkaio, Mudug region.
However, his mishandling of the previous indirect elections has led to heightened political opposition against him, further exacerbating the challenges his administration currently confronts.
Interestingly, discontented political elites in Puntland interpret President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s actions as a deliberate attempt to incite armed insurrection in the state.
Nevertheless, contrary to his expectations, President Mohamud’s actions have had unintended consequences, ironically strengthening Deni’s position and revitalizing his dwindling public support. As a result, there has been a notable increase in Deni’s approval ratings.
Puntland Political Forum: This pressure group consists over 22 influential politicians, who hold substantial influence in the election process. On December 30, 2022, the Forum released a statement endorsing the proposed constitutional amendment, stating it aims to establish an inclusive political system.
Traditional Elders: Several key stakeholders are involved in this complex situation. Elders, who hold significant influence over both local politics and elections are in favour of maintaining the status quo as it ensures their continued role as decision-makers in selecting parliamentary seats and local elections. On the other hand, the outgoing parliament opposes this plan, fearing that the elders may not choose them again.
FGS: The Federal Government of Somalia has inserted itself into the situation by aligning with anti-Deni factions. Its leaders are advocating for the candidacy of Abshir Omar Huruse, the current Foreign Minister, to become the next President of the State. But, In a surprising twist, the government’s controversial intervention has had unintended consequences, favouring Said Deni than the desired outcome.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, who had anticipated that their strong verbal attacks against the state leader would further fuel public discontent, thus undermining his election campaign, were taken aback by the shocking outcome.
International Actors: The International Community is also closely observing the situation, as they seek political stability in Puntland. However, their understanding of the complex local political dynamics is limited, potentially leaving them unprepared to effectively address potential impending crisis.
Unlike the other international actors, the UAE remains a major stakeholder in the upcoming elections in Puntland and is providing significant support to President Deni’s re-election campaign. The Emirates’ support, which creates a conflict with the central government’s active push seeking to remove President Deni from office, aligns with its dual-track policy in Somalia.
Puntland finds itself at a critical juncture, facing a high-stakes election accompanied by political crisis. However, the decisions made by various stakeholders will significantly influence the outcome and the results of the 25th May local government elections that will determine the course of its political landscape.
As the political crisis continue to unfold, analysts believe that the choices to be made by political leaders, opposition groups and traditional elders to navigate the current political turbulence will hold significant importance in determining the future direction of Puntland State of Somalia.
Source: horn examiner
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