By M. Trunji
Friday - August 27, 2021
By 1957, the responsibilities of the domestic affairs of the Trust Territory, had been transferred to the Somali government, established in 1956 (Law No. 1 of May 7, 1956); the trusteeship regime retaining only foreign and defense related affairs. This piece aims to shed some light on the mistakes, irregularities and abuses which have characterized the first election, 1958, conducted entirely under the Somali control. The irregularities committed in that election, set a bad example with negative impact on all subsequent local and political elections, during the parliamentary regime, culminating in the disastrous elections of 1969.
At the local government level, the first municipal administration was established in the capital city of Mogadiscio in 1951 (Ordinanza No. 9 del 6 Giugno, 1951) and was soon followed by others. The first election of Municipal Councils in the Trust Territory was held in 1954, the second in 1958.
In 1958, a municipal law was passed by Parliament, in preparation for the second municipal elections, In comparison with the 1954, this time the Law introduced new innovations in the following main principles: every elector had one vote which he/she had to express freely and directly; votes were on the base on list of candidates presented in each constituency by political parties; women had the right to vote and stand for election (Article 7 of the Law); voting was on the basis of certificates handed out by Municipalities to persons registered in general list of electors; only Somalis of 18 years and above could take part in the voting. In 1954 the voting age was 21 and above.
Based on the size of the municipality, the number of the Councilors to be elected for a term of office of four years, ranged from 25 in the main cities to 11 to the municipalities with less than 3,000 inhabitants. 663 Councilors were allotted in 45 municipalities. In 18 municipalities, no election took place. In inasmuch as only the Lega (the ruling party) lists were presented and the new Councilors, all belonging to the Lega lists, were proclaimed elected. In the Migiurtinia (now Punt Land), Mudugh and Hiran regions, only Lega candidates were admitted,”there “being”, according to the government, “no opposition”. (TNA FO 371138306, April 1959.
The number of voters increased threefold from 50,740 in 1954 to 156,636 in 1958 (UN Doc. T/1444, April, 1959). This was due to the establishment of new Municipalities, the granting of the right to vote to women and the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
The ruling party, conscious that it had been greatly weakened by the split of May 1958, took oppressive actions against the opposition. Certain District Commissioners were accused of organizing certain list and obstructing others. Rumors of irregularities were gathering pace and complains poured into the United Nations Advisory Council. It was alleged that District Commissioners in a number of Municipalities, had, after accepting Lega lists, suspended all other political parties, because of perceived breach of the peace and therefore would not accept any father lists from the temporarily banned parties. In other Municipalities, lists of the opposition parties were allegedly said to be found incorrectly completed and necessary correction could not be made in time before the last date for the submission of the lists. In Municipalities where opposition parts were contesting, their known supporters had difficulties in registration, being asked to produce document proof of age in a country where birth certificates were non-existing.
At Dusa Mareb, for instance, the activities of the Greater Somali League (GSL) and Partito Liberale Giovani Somali (PLGS) were forbidden and their respective lists rejected by the local authorities. At Bosaso, the Judge rejected the Greater Somali List (GSL) list, whilst in Baidoa, the Prefect (Governor) cited the absence of the Judge and the Distract Commissioner from office as reason for declining to accept the lists. At Belet Uen, the Chairman of the PLGS was forced to leave the city after his party’s list was rejected by the local authorities. However, despite the Government making unscrupulous use of its position, to manipulate the election machinery, the ruling Party did less well than it had hoped. The Party did win an absolute majority in 27 over 45 Municipalities and remained the strongest Party in several others; but, in the southern regions, where elections were contested, the Party lost considerable ground mostly to the Hisbiya Destour Mutaqbil Somali (HDMS), which obtained 175 against 57 in 1954 municipal elections.
In the capital, Mogadiscio, the candidate of the Partito Liberale Giovani Somali (PLGS), Ahmed Mudde , was elected “Sindaco” (Mayor) with 14 votes against 11 in favour of his closest contender, Hassan Barre Toho, of the Lega. (Corriere della Somalia, Novembre 17, 1958). The newly established Greater Somalia League Party (GSL), made poor showing in the 9 Municipalities they contested, failing to win absolute majority in any of them. The Party made its best showing in Chisimaio obtaining 956 votes.
In a meeting with him on November 20, 1958, the opposition complained to the Administrator of the country about the way the government had handled the elections urged his personal intervention so that a similar situation would not repeat in the political elections slated to begin in early 1959. However, the Administrator seemed not particularly sympathetic to the worries of the opposition parties, preferring to hind behind the excuse that the Somalis were now in charge of the domestic affairs of their country, and that there was little he could do to help them.
Subsequent municipal as well as political elections held in 1959, 1964 and 1969, were all marred by gross irregularities. Some unscrupulous Regional Governors, District Commissioners in up country, as well as officials in charge of the Polling Stations, were very often blamed for the awful electoral malpractices.
Evidence shows that the worst election, in terms of fairness and credibility, was the general elections held under the last civilian administration in 1969. Many, including historians, hold the opinion that the widespread electoral fraud and the outcry over the inflated election results was one of the factors that had paved the way for the military to overthrow the civilian government, six months after the highly controversial elections.