President Deni’s Decision to Push for Extension of Voting Rights to All Residents in Puntland Will Foster Somali National Cohesion and Unity
By Ali Yusuf Jama
Elections at all levels of government are a vital part of democratic processes, including political transitions, implementation of peace agreements and consolidation of democracy. Democratic theorists argue that competency in the political arena is more likely to be achieved through the election of rulers rather than some ascription method such as heredity succession.
In the 1960s, Somalia’s democratic experience during the civilian rule was hailed by political analysts and pundits alike as a shining example for Africa. But the 1969 October military take-over following the assassination of incumbent President, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke dealt the death knell on Somalia’s nascent democracy, ending its brief experiment with universal suffrage. In the intervening decades military dictatorship, clannism and warlordism became anathema to democracy as Somalia grappled with despotism, political violence, and state collapse.
The advent of Transitional Federalism in 2004 and eventual transition to Federalism in 2016, ushered in a polling model based on indirect elections that held sway for a number of years before Villa Somalia reactionaries brought the country to the brink in April 2021. Only a concerted pressure by a formidable alliance of opposition parties, civil society, the States of Puntland and Jubbaland and a section of the Somali National Army (SNA) that rejected Farmajo’s unconstitutional term extension averted a descend into chaos reminiscent of the 1991 warlordist mayhem. With the full backing of the international community, the pro-democracy alliance was able to push for a final round of negotiations culminating in a deal based on the September 17 agreement that has restored an electoral roadmap acceptable to all parties.
While Somalis can now look forward to the delayed parliamentary and presidential elections in 60 days, questions remain as to whether future polls maybe marred by disruptive clannish politics centred around enclaves pursuing parochial regionalism. In the English lexicon, regionalism at state level is defined as consciousness of and loyalty to a distinct region with a largely homogeneous or semi-homogenous population. At Supra-national level, it is seen in the context of regional integration notably in the case of continental common markets and sub-regional groupings in different parts of the world. While regionalism at supra-national and sub-regional levels is inherently beneficial it can be detrimental to societal cohesion at state level if it becomes ethicized or clannish in nature. In Somalia, unchecked parochial forms of regionalism, may hinder the nation-building process and in the worst-case scenario can potentially sow the seeds of balkanization.
To confront the spectre of balkanization, Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni has come up with an inclusive state-level electoral formula that can not only strengthen the nation-building project but also instill a sense of belonging and solidarity among Somalis that will nurture cross-regional allegiances capable of binding the federated nation together. Under this formula, perceived clan-enclaves will gradually give way to Somali-centric, regional polities that serve as building blocks for national cohesion and unity.
In rolling out his progressive agenda, President Deni boldly declared during a May 24 Mogadishu address that all Somali citizens who reside in Puntland will enjoy the right to vote.
According to renowned Somalia analyst, Matt Bryden, Deni’s promise “will place intense pressure on other Somali Federal Member States (FMS) to reciprocate” and hence “countering the proposition that federalism will perpetuate the balkanization of Somalia into clan-based enclaves.” “It is a clear signal he intends for Puntland to lead the way in finalizing Somalia’s federal architecture.”noted Bryden. Deni’s move is significant because it would open the door for a large number of non-Harti, Darood subclans, from other states, especially from South-West Somalia to exercise voting rights in Puntland. The statement came as a pilot voting exercise was underway in the Qardo, Eyl and Ufeyn districts for the inaugural Puntland local elections.
“I am very happy that the Somali people who came to Puntland from different parts of the country during the conflict and became part of the local population will freely participate in the coming elections’ said Deni. Puntland State is laying the “foundation pillars of democratization as it moves away from the long-running, clan-based electoral process ”notes Garowe Online, a leading Somalia-based publication.
Deni’s move is laudable because suffrage that is equally accessible to all Somalis regardless of their region of birth will enhance Somalia’s nascent democracy and elevate political participation at state and national level. Globally, the extension of voting rights to excluded and marginalized communities has been credited with enriching the democratic experience and creating a vibrant civic culture. In order to have a truly vibrant democracy, Somalia’s Federal Member States (FMS) leaders should emulate Deni by conferring voting rights to all disenfranchised residents within their jurisdictions. The success of an electoral system is in part a result of its ability to adapt to changing social circumstances. In Somalia, this entails allowing communities displaced by conflict in different parts of the country to become part of the electorate in their current host regions.
Granting voting rights to previously excluded communities in any given Somali state will promote equity, inclusiveness, and non-discrimination. More importantly, it will build trust and sense of togetherness that will further deepen social cohesion at national level. Deni’s calls for expanded franchise in Puntland will certainly institutionalize democratic notions that promote solidarity, harmony, and commitment to national ideals.
At this critical juncture, Deni’s leadership qualities make him an ideal Presidential Candidate for the upcoming elections. In the conduct of national affairs, President Deni has emerged as Somalia’s foremost defender of federalism, constitutionalism, rule of law, democracy, and human rights. Somalis of all walks of life are yearning for his visionary leadership and it remains to be seen whether he would enter the fray at some point with the Presidential polls just on the horizon.
Ali Yusuf Jama
 Elections in Political Theory. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1405722?read-now=1&seq=14#page_scan_tab_contents
 Matt Bryden. Sahan Somali Wire, Issue No. 149, May 25, 2021
 Bryden, Ibid.
 Garowe Online, May 24, 2021. https://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/puntland/people-from-southwest-state-will-have-right-to-vote-in-puntland-deni
 Garowe Online. Ibid