SOMALILAND HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
The first parliament of the Independent State of Somaliland was the short lived 33 member Legislative Assembly which was elected in February 1960 (as a Legislative Council) and which, under section 18(1) of the first Somaliland Constitution, became, on 26 June 1960, the State of Somaliland Legislative Assembly -
18. (1) On the commencement of this Constitution the person who immediately before that commencement was the Speaker of the Legislative Council of Somaliland shall become the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and the persons who immediately before that commencement were elected members of the Legislative Council shall become members of the Legislative Assembly and shall be deemed to have been elected thereto under this Constitution.
The Council of Ministers consisted, as set out in section 3 of the Somaliland Constitution, of the Prime Minister, Mr Ibrahim Haji Mohamed Egal, and 3 other ministers, who were all members of the Assembly. As the constitutional system was a parliamentary system, ‘if a motion that the Legislative Assembly should declare a lack of confidence in the Council of Ministers receives in the Assembly the affirmative votes of a majority of all the members of the Assembly’ (s. 7(1)(c)), then the Prime Minister and Minister would resign and a new Prime Minister would have been elected by the Assembly. The Prime Minister and his Government were therefore obliged to keep the confidence of the Assembly until the dissolution of House.
Parliamentary systems did not have (then) fixed terms of office and a general election would be held within 3 months of a dissolution of the House (s.38(3) of the Constitution). Nonetheless s.38(2) stated that ‘unless sooner dissolved , the Legislative Assembly shall continue for three years beginning, in the case of the first Legislative Assembly, on the commencement of this Constitution or, in the case of any subsequent Legislative Assembly, on the date when it first meets after any general election, and shall then stand dissolved’. This meant therefore that, in effect, unless dissolved earlier, the term of the Assembly would have been 3 years from 26 June 1960 and a General Election would have been held during the summer of 1963.
One of the State of Somaliland Laws which the Assembly passed on 27 June 1960 was the ill fated Law No. 1 of 1960 - The Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law, which was supposed to have been endorsed also by the then Assembly of Somalia before 1 July 1960, but was not. A different Act of Union was passed in January 1961 by the Somali Republic National Assembly voting then as that new assembly and not as previously planned two assemblies approving separately an agreed single text treaty of the nion.
The Somaliland Legislative Assembly of 33 members and the existing 90 member Assembly of Somalia became on 1 July the Somali Republic National Assembly. This National Assembly lasted for only two terms as just over six months into into its third term, it was unconstitutionally dissolved by a Military coup which, on 21 October 1969, swept aside the then constitution of the Republic and the central plank of the union between Somaliland and Somalia which was that two countries shall constitute ‘a democratic’ ‘republic’. This also marked the end of parliamentary democracy.
The Republic of Somaliland
In the May 1991 conference in which Somaliland re-asserted its independence, a “presidential” system of government was adopted. This type of government was articulated in the Somaliland National Charter of 1993, which confirmed an Executive headed by a President and a Legislature of two Houses, the Representatives and the Elders (“Guurti”). Under Article 9 of the Charter, members of the Executive (ministers and deputy ministers) could not become members of the legislature. The same system of government was re-confirmed in the 1997 Interim Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland which replaced the National Charter in February 1997, and of course in the current Constitution, which was adopted by the two Houses of Parliament on 30th April 2000 and endorsed at a national referendum held on 31 May 2001.
Somaliland’s Bicameral Parliament
Somaliland has a bicameral parliament.
- The House of Representatives is elected and is the main legislative body – see Article 40 of the Somaliland Constitution and
- The House of Elders (Guurti, in Somali) is currently indirectly elected by the various communities and is the revising chamber for legislation (except for financial bills) – see Article 58 of the Somaliland Constitution.
For more information about both Houses see their websites:
Both Houses consist of 82 members each, but the House of Elders also includes honorary members who are either former holders of the offices of president, vice-president or speakers of both Houses and who serve for life or up to 5 persons chosen by the President on the basis of their “special significance to the nation” and who serve for the term of the House they are appointed to.
The first direct election of the House of Representatives took place in September 2005. The current House of Elders’ term started in 1997 Grand Conference of the Somaliland Communities, but the House, as an institution goes back to 1993 and before that to the mid 1980’s during the struggle against the dictatorship. The procedures for the indirect (or direct) election of the Elders are currently under discussion although the House has,
See here for the relavant Election Laws.
The Standing Rules of the Houses
Both Houses have their Standing Rules.
The Respective Roles of the two Houses
The Somaliland House of Representatives is described in Article 39 the Constitution as “the first part of the country’s legislature, passing laws and approving and overseeing the general political situation and the direction of the country”. The powers of the House of Representative are set out in Article 53, 54 and 55 of the Constitution and can be summarised under the following headings:
- Legislation: To pass all legislation, together with the House of Elders, but exclusively in respect of all financial laws.
- Finances, taxation, and oversight of the budget and financial accounts of the State.
- Presidential Appointments: To approve all the presidential appointments set out in the Constitution.
- Oversight of Government Policies/actions: To debate, comment on and approve the Government plan and programme; give advice and recommendations to the Government about the general direction of its policies.
- Powers to summon ministers or officials as part of their oversight of executive action.
- Ratification of international agreements.
- Decisions about state of emergency.
- Impeachment powers.
The House shares some of these powers with the Elders, but it has ane exclusive power in relation to financial issues, confirmation of presidential appointments (other than that of the Chairman of the Supreme Court), changes in the symbols of the nation (flag etc) and a pre-eminent position in respect of changes to the Constitution under Article 126 of the Constitution, and in the ratification of treaties (other than the debates about treaties which are of a regional or international character must be discussed at a joint meeting of both Houses (Article 38(6) ( b)).
The House of Elders shares some of the powers with the Representatives, but it has has also a discrete role in respect of "religion, traditions and security". The Elders have also a special constitutional role in "consulting the traditional heads of the communities" (Article 61(4)). It has also an exclusive power to extend terms of office of the President and the representatives when exceptional circumstances make an election impossible. Together with the traditional leaders, the Elders have excelled in their peace and security role. In the protocol of the state the Speaker of the Elders comes before that of the Representatives.
The House of Elders is also a revising chamber for legislation (other than that relating to financial mattters), but it is more like the UK House of Lords in that it cannot block legislation which the Representatives are determined to pass. In fact the Elders can only return a bill once and if the Representatives push it back unchanged in the following session, the bill shall pass. So the Elders have a delaying power only, and even when they refuse a bill on "a point of principle" and by a 2/3's majority, the Representatives can pass it with a similar 2/3's majority.
Both Houses have various standing and Ad hoc committees (see their Rules of procedure).
“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament” Edmund Burke (1729 -1797)