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Somalia's election a complicated affair

Somalia is taking its final steps toward a new president, but the election process proves to be anything but simple.
Last modified: 20 Aug 2012 00:20

Nothing in Somalia is simple, and the political process currently underway is certainly one of the most complicated I have ever reported.

Monday marks the "legal end" of the country's long and bloody transition to a new government, according to UN Special Representative Augustine Mahiga. Somalia's chief justice will swear in 225 members of parliament, who are tasked with soon selecting a speaker and president.

Parliament will eventually have 275 members, the full number required to hold the necessary votes.

But in practice, the transition hasn't ended. Even the ceremonial swearing-in won’t occur at Parliament, but rather the National Police Academy, because of security concerns. And a raft of political issues remain unsettled.

This isn’t a straightforward election - one person, one vote. This election is based on clans.

How do the clans work, I asked one Somali professor staying at our guesthouse.

"Do you want to lose your mind?" he responds, gesticulating enthusiastically.  "There are many clans, sub-clans and sub-clans of those clans. You can only be born into a clan. Even if you marry, you stay with your clan."

Clan elders in parliament have been divided along what is called the 4.5 power sharing formula.

The clans - Hawiye, Darod, Digil mirifle, and Dir - get 61 seats each. The 0.5, a coalition of what are deemed minority clans, get just 31. 

Many Somalis will admit this is completely unfair, for now at least it is unlikely to change.

There are positive aspects. For the first time in years, candidates have been holding rallies and distributing campaign flyers in the streets, and one can find election posters and billboards all over the city.

Roughly 20 to 40 potential candidates are in the running for president, though there are no official figures. Some frontrunners have told Al Jazeera they are keeping a low profile because of security concerns. 

However, women's role in parliament has become a controversial issue.  While it was agreed that 30 per cent of MPs should be women, elders say this is a step too far for Somalia's culture. 

Women’s rights campaigners say this is non-negotiable.

"We are the ones able to change society. We are the mothers, the daughters, we are also the sisters. There is no way things can continue the way they have been," one told me.

So far, it seems, they have been unable to get more than 16 per cent.