Ibrahim Hashi Jama

September 2000


On 6 August 2000, the President signed the Political Parties Law. This signalled the start of the formation of political parties and the transformation of the representative democracy in Somaliland into a popular one based on direct elections.


The challenge for the Parliament and the Government was to devise a system which will encourage the formation of political parties from scratch and would then lead to a transparent method of choosing the main three political parties which the Constitution allows.  In the recent revision of the Constitution, the Government proposed[1] that the limit of three in the number of political parties be removed, but the Parliament decided to retain the limit.  Therefore, Article 9 of the (revised) Constitution states:


“Article 9: Political System

1.   The political system of the Republic of Somaliland shall be based on peace, co-operation, democracy and plurality of political parties.

2.   The number of political parties in the Republic of Somaliland shall not exceed three (3).

3.  A special law shall determine the procedures for the formation of a political party, but it is unlawful to for any political party to be based on regionalism or clanism.”


To meet these constitutional requirements, the system adopted in the Political Parties Law was said[2] to have been broadly modelled after the recent transformation of Nigeria[3] to a representative democracy, and involves the use of local government elections as the litmus test for the political parties which may be able to garner popular support, before the die is cast and the three political parties which can contest the national elections are identified.


The Political Parties Law consists of only six articles.  The law sets up an independent Registration and Approval of Political Parties Commission to register political parties[4] and lays down the conditions and procedures for such registration. The Commission shall consist of 7 members, including at least two legally qualified members[5] and shall have a chairman, a deputy chairman and a secretary.  The President of the Republic shall nominate them, but their appointment has to be confirmed by the House of Representatives by a simple majority (Article 1(2)).   The members must fulfil the same eligibility criteria as the members of the House of Representatives  which is set out in Article 41 of the Constitution[6]


The Commission’s term of office shall come to an end six months[7] after they have approved the three political parties which have succeeded in the “nation-wide”[8] elections. Commission members are entitled to remuneration.  They can be dismissed by the President, but subject to the endorsement by the House of Representative on a qualified two-thirds majority vote[9].


As announced by the President on the date of the promulgation of the Political Parties Law on 6 August 2000, political associations can now be set up in Somaliland so long as they are not based on clans or regions, as prohibited by the Constitution. The process of registration of the political  associations/parties will start with the Commission announcing publicly the period during which it will entertain applications for registrations, and the address to which the applications should be submitted to in the regions and districts.  The period in which applications shall be open will be two months starting from the date[10] set by the Commission as the first day for receipt of applications.  Any political association wishing to apply for registration must submit to the Commission the relevant formal application form and must attach the following:

1.        The details of the date, and the place where the association held its founders’ meting.

2.        The names of the founders and of the executive committee members and the methods of the election of its officers.

3.        The structure of the association, including its full name, abbreviation, emblem, and its offices.

4.        A non-refundable deposit of five million SL Shillings[11].


The submission of the applications to the Commission within the set time limit marks the end of the  first stage of the registration process. If the Commission is satisfied that an association fulfils the necessary conditions, it shall grant it a temporary approval (Article 4(1)), and give it a copy of the Political Parties Law on which it can base its rules. This marks the start of the second stage, and is aimed at enabling the association to seek wider support and to build up a national network.   The temporary licence will last for a period of three months, during which the association must submit to the Commission written confirmation of :

1.        the holding of a general meeting , and the details of the date, place, main business of the meeting etc;

2.        proof that the association has registered, at least, 500 members in every  region of the Republic.


The association must also submit to the Commission during the three-month period 10 copies of the rules of the association and details of the addresses in every region  (Article 3(4). The main conditions, which the internal rules of an association/party must fulfil, are that the rules should:

1.        conform to the Constitution of the Republic and its laws (Article 3(7) and to Islamic sharia (Article 4(2));

2.        confirm its commitment to the democratic and power sharing principles, and to modes of making policies and decisions from the bottom upwards (Article 3(5);

3.        not deny membership to any Somalilander on grounds of clan, religion, gender etc. (Article 3(8)); and

4.        confirm that successful candidates in parliamentary and local elections cannot be expelled by the association/party, and neither can they leave to join another association (Article 3(9)).


In addition, an association/political party must not[12]:

1.        amalgamate with another association/party before the elections [13] (Article 3(9));

2.        pass inaccurate information to the Commission;

3.        receive financial contributions from foreign sources;

4.        use the public resources for its own activities in connection with elections[14]; nor

5.        use armed groups or forces to further its interests. This is, in any case, expressly forbidden under article 38 of the Constitution; nor


Furthermore, the programme of any political party must address clearly the following issues (Article 3(10))[15]:

1.        The maintenance of the peace and public order.

2.        The advancement of education and religion

3.        The promotion of health and welfare.

4.        The care and protection of the environment.

5.        The care and utilisation of the natural resources of the land.

6.        The promotion of knowledge (science) and technology.


All the associations which have been given a temporary approval and have met the stage 2 requirements will be able to contest the first nation-wide local authority elections[16]. The third stage of the registration, therefore, takes place after the Commission has assured itself that an association/party does command national support and is one of the three associations that has gained the highest number of votes cast in the local elections. The formula proposed for winnowing the three from among the rest of temporarily registered associations is a threshold of 20% of all votes cast in all the regions.  Any association which reaches the 20% threshold in every region shall be recognised forthwith by the Commission as being a political party and shall be issued a certificate of registration (Article 3(11)).   If only one association reaches the threshold, the two parties with the next highest percentage vote in all the regions shall also be recognised by the Commission.  But, if no association reaches the 20% threshold, the Commission shall recognise the three associations with highest total votes cast for them in the local elections (Article 3(13)).  This latter clause does not lay any minimum percentage votes to be gained in every region, and, presumably, as every association is expected to have at least 500 voters in each region supporting it to gain temporary approval in the first instance (see above) it should be able to attract some votes from every region.  Finally, in the event of a tie in the number of votes cast for two or more associations, the previous proposal in the Bill to draw lots drawn in the presence of the Chairman of the Supreme Court has been replaced by  a provision stating that the elections would be repeated on a date set by the Government (3(14))[17].


Once registered, political parties shall have the right (under Article5) to:

1.        have access to the national public media in an equitable manner, and, having obtained the approval of the appropriate agencies, to use their own special information services;

2.        express freely their political opinions, without damaging public order and security of the Republic;

3.        be free from suppression or closure, and to own their property; and

4.        criticise other political parties or the Government.


If the parties have any complaints about the conduct of the Commission, they can submit those in writing to the Regional Court[18].  Appeals from the Regional Court leapfrog[19] to the Constitutional Court (the Supreme Court).


Under article 22 of the Constitution, every Somaliland citizen, who fulfils the requirements of the law, has a right to stand for election to an office. Article 6 of the Political Parties Law now lays down the legal requirement  that one can stand for election only if nominated as a candidate by a (registered) political party, and no independent candidates can stand for elections.  The procedures for nominations are set out in the Elections Bill, but it is stated (rather incongruously) in Article 6(2) of the Political Parties Law that nominations for local elections shall be made by the regional committees of the parties.


The Law has come up with a reasonably workable formula of allowing associations to get off the ground and have a chance of establishing themselves in the first local elections before the die is cast and only three of them are chosen by the Commission as the registered political parties.  The shortcomings of the law are linked to the Constitutional limit of three in the number of political parties that can be registered.  It leaves unanswered the question as to what will happen if one or more of the registered parties, for whatever reason, can no longer function as a separate party.  The Bill originally included a bar on parties joining each other after the elections, but the law does not ban that, and, leaves it open for parties to merge after the elections. This raises the spectre of a one party state, and with the registration system coming to an end a few months after the national elections are held, there is no provision, at all, for the formation of new parties to fill the quota of three allowed under the Constitution. Parliament will then need to re-visit this Law. By then, though, the same system of registration based on local elections will not be as effective as all the new aspiring associations will be contesting elections against an already established and well organised political party (or two).   The answer may well be to remove the artificial limit on the number of political parties well before the next round of elections in 2005/6, and to give the function of registering political parties to the permanent Elections Commission[20].



Ibrahim Hashi Jama

© September 2000




[1]  The President, H.E M.I. Egal,  was quoted in an report at a Press Conference marking the promulgation of the Political Parties Law on 06/08/00, as confirming that the Government would have preferred that there was no constitutional limit of the number of parties (Jamhuuriya 07/08/00).

[2]  In the interview (see 1 above), the President confirmed that the initial step of allowing the formation of political associations who can contest local elections was modelled after the Nigerian elections.

[3]  The Nigerian local elections were held in December 1998, and the national elections in early 1999.

[4]  In most countries the Elections Commissions also undertake the function of the registering political parties. In Somaliland, a separate Elections Commission will be set up under the Elections Bill. Because of the limit of three in the number of political parties, the work of Registration and Approval of Political Parties Commission comes to an end once they identify and register these three parties. This could therefore be the reason why a separate Commission was chosen for this temporary job.

[5]  It very common for such Commissions to be presided by or include legally qualified members.

[6]  Article 41 of the Constitution:

   “Article 41: Eligibility for Candidacy

Any person who is standing for election to the House of Representatives must fulfil the following conditions:

1.     He must be a Muslim and must behave in accordance with the Islamic religion.

2.     He must be a citizen who is not younger than 35 years.

3.     He must be physically and mentally able to fulfil his duties.

4.     He must be educated to, at least, secondary school level or equivalent.

5.     He must not have been subject of a final sentence for a criminal offence by a court within the preceding five years.

6.     He must be a responsible person with appropriate character and behaviour.

7.     No employee of the state shall be eligible for candidacy unless he has tendered his resignation from office prior to a period determined by law.  Such resignation shall be accepted.”

[7]  In the draft Bill, the proposed term of office was 5 years.

[8]  This clause is phrased ambiguously. The Somali phrase used for these elections “Qaranka” means nation or “national” but,  it is submitted that the elections referred to in this clause are the nation-wide local elections and not the following national elections in which the three registered parties will contest.

[9]  In contrast, the membership of the proposed Election Commission can be terminated by the President, but will only require the endorsement of the House of Representatives by a simple majority (see Clause 23(4) of the Elections Bill).

[10] In the Bill, the two month period started rom the date of the public announcement.

[11]  In the Bill the deposit was 10 million SL/=

[12]  These are mainly set out in Article 4 of the Law.

[13]  In the Bill, the phrase used was  “after the elections”. The significance of this change is not very clear. If it means that there is no longer any prohibition on the party joining another after the election, this will be a substantial change, but does not seem to go with the rest of the clause 3(9) which still continues to ban the elected parliamentary or local authority members from joining any other party! If the only three parties are allowed to join each other, then there is the danger of country ending with an overweening single party. 

[14]  This prohibition against misuse of public property is a new addition.

[15]  This is a new addition.

[16]  The elections will be for the 33 districts in the six regions. The elections for each district will be for Councillors numbering 13, 17, 21 or 25 depending on the size of each district. The number of regional councillors will be 25 in the North West (including the Capital) and 21 in all the other 5 regions (see the Local Government Administration Law, Law No:8/99). There will, therefore, be approximately 700 Council seats to be contested.

[17]  Although drawing lots is not the best way of settling such an important issue, it is difficult to understand why nation-wide elections of councillors have to be repeated at a considerable cost not because of anything wrong with the elections, but because of the formula to reduce the number of parties to the three set artificially under the Constitution. 

[18]  This is a new addition. Previously, complaints had to go to the Supreme Court and, if the party is not satisfied with the ruling, it can only apply to Court itself  to review its ruling.

[19]  Normally appeals from the Regional Courts go to each region’s Appeal Court.

[20]  Most countries have only one Commission dealing with registration of political parties and elections – see note 4 above.