10/24/2021
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The 1959 General Elections: A number of problems marred the smooth running of the exercise
By M. Trunji
Sunday - September 19, 2021


 

The present short piece of writing follows the one appeared on Hiiraan Online Website in August 2021 in which the focus was on the malpractices and irregularities which accompanied the Municipal elections of 1958. Like the 1958 Municipal elections, the political elections of 1959 were conducted in an ambience far from being serene. Rigging elections results has been a central preoccupation of the government. The political climate of the election campaign was characterized by protests against the Somali Government and the Administering Authority (Afis) on the way the electoral process was being handled.

The government submitted a Bill (Legge N. 26 del Dicembre 12, 1958) to the Legislative Assembly setting the date of the elections for March 1959, approximately 15 months ahead of the Territory’s full independence. The new electoral law was passed without some crucial issues including, population census, revision of the electoral boundaries, and voters’ registration being resolved. The voters were merely required to identify themselves to the Electoral Office to be eligible. To deter the voter from casting his/her vote more than once, his left hand was marked with indelible ink, but the ink proved enough easy to erase with lemon, soda and sand. However, the law contained three important innovations, in comparison with the 1956 electoral law: firstly, under this law, citizens of both sexes were eligible to vote and to be elected. Secondly, the indirect voting system (through the electoral representative for the nomadic population) was abolished and, every elector, whether rural or urban dweller, was casting his/her vote without electoral certificate. Thirdly, the qualifying age was lowered from 21 to 18 years. The law required the list of candidates be signed by no less than 200 and not more than 300 voters, and accompanied by a deposit of ShSo 1,000 for each list. Civil servants were allowed to run as candidates for elective positions.

New electoral districts created and number of Seats increased

The country was divided into 30 electoral districts with the creation of 5 new districts: Alula, Iskusciuban, Balad, Uanle Uen and Gelib, bringing the number of the electoral districts from 25 in 1956 t0 30. The number of seats to contest was raised from 60 to 90, distributed on regional basis before the result of the elections: Migiurtinia (now Punt Land) 13, Mudugh 12, Hiran 12, Benadir 18, Alto Giuba 22 and Basso Giuba 12. The United Nations and the Administering Authority (AFIS) were of the opinion that the seats be distributed after the election results were made public. The United Nation, the Administering Authority and the opposition parties considered excessive the increase in the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. It was considered that such number of Members of Parliament would substantially burden the Territory’s future budget. However, some MPs, although recognizing the number was rather high for a country like Somalia, maintained this would have the effect of reducing the defects of the unicameral system. (UN Doc. T/1444, April 14, 1959, par.. 109, p, 26)

Fear of foreign interference in the election process   

In the run-up to the elections, the ruling Party felt that it was facing strong challenge from the opposition Parties as it was rumored that they were being subsidized by foreign Consulates based in Mogadiscio. In order to counter any interference, real or fictional, from foreign agents in the internal affairs of the Territory, two motions were tabled to the Legislative Assembly by a group of Lega MPs. The first called the Government to take steps to invite the foreign communities “to observe scrupulously the principle of hospitality and non-interference “, and the second called upon the Consulates based in the territory (at the time, Britain, France, Egypt, Ethiopia, United States of America and Yemen, were represented by Consulates) “ to observe absolute and unquestionable neutrality, and also to scrupulously observe the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the country”. Although not pointing finger at any particular country, yet it was generally believed that the two motions were directed to the Egyptian and Ethiopia Consulates for allegedly supporting the Greater Somalia Party (GSL), the Hisbiya Destour Mustaqil Somali (HDMS) and the Partito Liberali Giovani Somalia (PLGS), respectively. United Nations report suggested that the Government made the Legislative Assembly pass emergency law giving the Government sweeping powers to detain individuals suspected of undermining the security for a maximum of one year without being charged (UN Doc. 1444, 14 April, 1959, par. 97, p, 24)

Il Patto del Diavolo

An anti-Lega coalition of four political Parties (HDMS,GSL, PLGS and SANU), worried that the proposed electoral law would leave them at the mercy of the government’s whim, hurried to form what they called a “United Front” and threatened to boycott the elections unless the law was withdrawn. This new coalition was soon to be dubbed by its critics “Patto del Diavolo”, or Devil’s Pact. A joint manifesto of the four coalition parties was published, requesting the putting in place of a mechanism necessary to ensure free and fare election. In particular the four political Parties requested the UN to supervise the election process.

Within the Legislative Assembly, the opposition objected two other main clauses in the draft electoral law, namely the proposed five-year terms of the new Assembly, arguing that a Parliament elected during the Trusteeship mandate could not be considered as truly representative. The opposition pleaded also for the Assembly term to be reduced to two years further arguing that it would be possible, during these two years, to take an accurate census of the population on the basis of which new and more valid elections could be held after independence. (UN Doc. 1444, 14 April, 1959, par. 106, p, 24). However, the Government went ahead with its plan despite criticism from the United Nation and the opposition.

The opposition referred to serious difficulties, intimidations and hindrance on the part of the local authorities in the presentation of the lists, particularly in the districts of Baidoa, Brava, Bur Acaba, Oddur and Dinsor. However, the most dramatic scenario is reported to have occurred in Belet Uen where the Regional Commissioner issued directives banning the opening of the GSL section in Belet Uen, and, when a branch of this Party was opened despite the ban, instructions were given to the Municipal Police (Vigili Urbani) to proceed with the demolition of the two-room thatched structure rented as an office to the GSL.  

In the face of these malpractice and abuse of power, the opposition cried foul urging the Administrator of the Territory, Ambassador Di Stefano, to intervene and ensure free and fair elections. However, the official policy of the Italian trusteeship Administration, AFIS, was to interfere as little as possible in an internal matters it believed to be within the competence of the Somali Government. In a bid to salvage its own image, the Government decided to push the opposition to take, at least, a symbolic participation in the elections. To reach this, it encouraged splits within the ranks of the opposition, successively persuading some prominent elements of the loose United Front to present their list of candidates in some districts. The HDMS splinter group was led by Abdulkadir Mohamed Aden “Zoppo”, General-Secretary of the Party, a cunning move that paved the way for the ambitious man to jump on the bandwagon by joining the ruling party, Although the Lega viewed him as an archenemy, and possibly blacklisted, yet Abdulkadir “Zoppo”, immediately after independence, emerged one of the most influential politicians of the country, overshadowing many veteran Lega MPs. In fact, from 1960 to 1967, he headed key Portfolios including that of Interior and Finance in successive civilian government.

At the end of the period set for the presentation of the list of candidates, the ruling Party had lists presented in all electoral districts; the HDMS in eight districts; the PLGS in five. The Greater Somali League presented candidates in few constituencies, including Galcaio and Eyl. The Party, however, decided not to compete in these two districts withdrawing their lists before the date of the elections. When ballots were counted, distribution of seats across the Parties was: Lega dei Giovani Somali 83; Hisbia Destur Mustaqil Somali 5, and Partito Liberale Giovani Somali 2.

 M. Trunji

E-mail [email protected]



 





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