Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Has Somaliland Three Parties or One Party with Three Names?

(Waridaad)-Much has changed in Somaliland political landscape. Three political parties, Udub, Kulmiye and Ucid, now compete for the hearts and minds of voters. Whilst this is a positive development to be cherished, and was hailed as an unprecedented achievement few years ago when multi-party democracy system was adopted in Somaliland, we are of the opinion that much more remains to change. Though some might argue that the three parties are still in their infancy, there are two concerns which cannot be overlooked. First, it is arguably clear that, except for some nominal differences, the current three political parties have no idiosyncratic ideological differences in terms of their long term political agenda, their political visions, their economic and social development programs, their views regarding employment, education, health care services, environmental issues, livestock development and the question of seeking international recognition for the country: in short issues that matter most to the voters.

An evidence for this lack of political distinctiveness in the political outlook of the three parties is the fact that members in the parties easily shift from one party to the next without undergoing any changes in their ideological views. To illustrate this point let us just consider the case of the former Somaliland Defense Minister, an Udub die-hard, who after he was sacked from his position, changed parties overnight when he walked over to Ucid as if he was changing jobs. Posing the question of whether this former defense minister has any guilt feeling of ever serving under Udub or defecting to Ucid, we can confidently state no. Because there are no moral or ethical codes that binds his loyalty to either one party. In other words like any other party member in any of the three parties he has no problem divided loyalty. We believe that such stance is precarious and poses a major weakness for the political maturation process of our young democracy. This case shows that the line between the parties is extremely fine. But such fine line between parties is not conducive to the political development in the country. This precarious stance therefore needs to be challenged. And if we genuinely want changes to take place, hopefully for the better, we need new blood of politicians. We will outline how this can be achieved. But the second disadvantage of leaving the three established parties unchallenged is that they become complacent, politically rusted and indifferent towards voters. For if they are serious about their electorates each party would develop their own distinct pathway. We therefore foresee a danger if these parties to continue to dominate the political landscape of the country: we run the risk of becoming a qat republic.

Due to these mounting concerns regarding the manipulation and deception of the voters by the ill advised established parties and the political stalemate facing the country, it is our belief, that throwing political gates wide open for new parties to join or independent candidates to run for elections, will be better alternative to being stuck with Udub, Ucid or Kulmiye. In our view, the country needs more than three political parties to compete for local government elections to be in tune with its’ infant democracy. It is of utmost importance that in every local election, more parties are allowed to participate. This has several advantages. First, such opportunities for new political parties would work as an effective way of doing checks and balances into the depth of the political conviction these parties claim to hold dear. Challenging them will, in our view, awaken them and force them to live up to the promises they pledge in their campaigning. Second, it will allow other young dynamic politicians to enter the political arena without being fostered by the established political structures, which are obviously, not up to their jobs. We might also argue that with the opening of these gates to the formations of political parties, different stakeholders, such as women groups, youth, and minority or otherwise underprivileged groups will be represented in the political arena. In addition to the allowing of new parties to participate in the local elections, we are suggesting that independent candidates be allowed to run for elections, which is clearly not in violation of the Somaliland Constitution.

Third, such arrangements will, we hope, add new dimension to the political maturation of Somaliland. It needs to be emphasized that the emerging new political movements will certainly not cause inconvenience for the voters. Rather, they will give the voters choices, and most importantly also a pay-back opportunity to settle scores with their elected parties that do not deliver. As for any of the established parties, the idea of losing their strongholds to the emerging movements will arguably force them to respond to the plight of the voters. This will trigger their consciousness to validate their existence and that they are indebted and accountable to the voters. In addition they will come up with tangible programs instead of fooling the voters into hollow promises. Competition that results from allowing emerging parties into the political game will obviously vitalize the political life of the country’s leadership. At the same time instead of voting with their feet, voters will feel that their verdict is being respected, their voices being heard and most importantly that their votes do count. In short the view we are ventilating here is one that will give voting a new dimension: for after all voting should make a difference.

Another benefit of competing with the established parties is that such open democracy will work to the country’s advantage as an emerging democracy in a region characterized by wars, dictatorship and human suffering and consequently likely that we can win the sympathy of international spectators. Also by initiating today an open and fair election race we lay the foundations for a robust electoral system with inbuilt checks and balances for future generations. As it currently stands, voting in Somaliland looks more like carte blanch given away to visionless political parties and their leadership. Having more contenders will add an impulse to the clinically dead visions of Udub, Ucid and Kulmiye. Multi-party race at local government elections will not necessarily mean that we have similar system at national level. In this respect we find it acceptable to have three major parties, but our point is that the three dominant parties will not be the current parties per se. In their place new parties could emerge that better represent the general public of Somaliland. So at any election term the three parties with the most votes will participate in the general elections. Our position is not to replace the existing three parties with a new set of three other parties for the sake of it. We envisage that this open race will continue until recognizable distinct parties emerge and until such time when switching from party to the other, as in the Defense Minister case, becomes politically taboo. But for now at municipal elections we recommend that grass rooters are given the opportunity to challenge the established.

After a bitter struggle for its independence, Somaliland Republic and its people deserve to get their hard earned rights!!! By hijacking the destiny, these despots, both in the ruling party and in the opposition, are trying to distort the truth of the matter: protecting their positions. The citizens of this precious Republic deserve better as the time is long overdue for them to harvest the fruits of their struggle. They need leadership with vision and leadership that can deliver. Unfortunately, Somalilanders have fallen prey to bankrupt politicians, and this is exactly why we have in the above argued for challenging the established parties. Viva la Luta. La Luta continua. The struggle must continue!!!

Drs. Hussein Abdillahi, Bristol – UK & Mohamed Obsiye, London - UK

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