Somalia has launched an overhaul of its political system, with an agreement signed on Sunday between the government and the federated states providing for the introduction of direct universal suffrage from 2024 and the transition to a presidential system.
The agreement, which must be approved by Parliament, aims to put into practice the oft-repeated but never implemented promise of a vote on the principle of "one person, one vote" from the local elections scheduled for June 30, 2024. These will be followed by elections for regional parliaments and presidents on November 30, 2024.
This principle of direct universal suffrage had disappeared after dictator Siad Barré seized power in 1969 in this Horn of Africa country.
"We have decided to return decision-making to the people, so that the voice of the Somali citizen becomes valuable in matters relating to his future," said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud at a press conference on Sunday, alongside several leaders of federated states.
"We must get out of the fear in which we have been trapped for 20 or 30 years and move on to holding democratic elections in this country: a +one person, one vote+ election, both at federal and state level," he added.
After the chaos that followed the fall of Siad Barré in 1991, Somalia's political system revolved around the myriad clans and sub-clans that make up its society.
Until now, elections have been held through a complex indirect process, a source of power struggles and instability which, according to many observers, has benefited the radical Islamist Shebab insurgency that has been bloodying the country since 2007.
Elected in May 2022 for a second term (after his first in 2012-2017), Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud promised in March that the next national and regional elections would be held on the principle of "one person, one vote".
A first step had been taken this week with the initiative of the semi-autonomous northern state of Puntland, which organized its district council elections according to this principle. The ballot was praised and cited as an example by the international community.
In addition to the voting system, the agreement outlines a broader overhaul of Somalia's political system, with the introduction of a presidential system to replace the current parliamentary system.
"In order to harmonize elections in the Federal Republic of Somalia, the country will adopt a system of president and vice-president (...) elected on a single ballot paper", explain the signatories in a press release.
This "presidential ticket" puts an end to the post of Prime Minister. The next presidential election is scheduled for May 2026.
The local council elections will serve as the basis for elections at national level, which will be held under the "closed-list proportional system" and contested by two parties only.
"The two political parties with the majority of votes (in the local elections) will be national political parties competing for seats in Parliament and the President," explains the text.
This agreement was reached at the end of a four-day meeting of the National Consultative Forum, bringing together Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre and the leaders of the federated states. The President of Puntland, Saïd Abdullahi Deni, was not present to sign the agreement.
The text represents a major step forward. Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud's predecessor, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as "Farmajo", had stated his desire to organize elections on the principle of "one person, one vote", but failed to do so, against a backdrop of tensions with certain states.
Since his election, Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud has stepped up his efforts to extricate Somalia from the chronic instability in which it has been living for decades.
In particular, he has declared "all-out war" on the radical Islamist Shebab, an al-Qaeda affiliated group that has been fighting the internationally-backed federal government for over 15 years, in order to establish Islamic law in the country.
In September, the President launched a military offensive, backed by the African Union force (Atmis) and US air strikes, which has enabled the group to reclaim territory in the center of the country.
Driven out of the main towns in 2011-2012, the Shebab remain firmly entrenched in vast rural areas.
The country is also facing a humanitarian emergency, including a historic drought that began at the end of 2020 and flooding in recent weeks.