UK now says Somalis alone can decide on time of election, model to use

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Britain’s Ambassador to Somalia Ben Fender said that it’s up to Somalis to decide on the leader they want, the time of upcoming elections and the model to use, a marked departure from his country’s earlier position calling for “timely elections” in the country.

“We respect Somalia’s sovereignty. Who leads Somalia and its election arrangements are for Somalis alone to decide,” said Fender on Wednesday in a two-minute video message posted to his Twitter account.

Somali political leaders have for months now been at loggerheads over when and how to hold parliamentary and presidential polls due Dec. 27, 2020 and Feb. 8, 2021 respectively. Opposition groups, including regional chief administrators, insist on a timely and indirect vote, while the national government advocates universal suffrage that critics say is a ploy to extend current administration’s term by two years.

The electoral body asked for more time and $70 million to organize a popular vote that was different from the 2016-2017 indirect, bribery-marred elections in which a group of selected elders elected lawmakers who in turn elected the current president of the Somali Republic.

The UK ambassador, who is known for speaking his mind, said he had decided to share his country’s position on Somalia’s upcoming elections after receiving “a lot of questions asking where the UK stands on events” in the Horn of Africa nation.

Aware that both the government and opposition figures are closely watching his words, he skirted the weekend ouster of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire in a no-confidence vote for falling to timely and properly prepare the nation for a popular vote, among other issues.

Fender’s clarification is crucial. Just a day earlier, 21 countries, including the UK itself and four international organizations, called for “timely elections”, a phrasing construed by opposition groups as a clear warning by the international community about any attempt to engineer a vote delay.

Fender opted this time around to focus more on Somalis’ need for dialogue and compromise and less on the time of upcoming elections.

“It’s vital there should be inclusive political dialogue taking forward and building on the process agreed in Dhusamareeb,” he said, referring to the July 22 agreement in the northern city between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and regional chiefs.

That agreement called for holding a “timely election in the country that satisfies all” and for setting up a technical committee whose work is to come up with recommendations on best electoral models for Somalia.

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