Puntland Election – The Candidates More than 15 years after
Puntland Election – The Candidates More than 15 years after it was founded and 5 presidents Puntland seems to be coming of age displaying unambiguous signs of maturity as it faces a crucial presidential vote. This forthcoming election is promising to be very much different from all its predecessors. Gone are the days of the tunnel vision politics where support for a candidate was based purely on tribal considerations.
But with no political organisations putting forward candidates, this election is effectively open for all to take part and not surprisingly attracting all kinds of contestants. The debate is so far gentle with no visible signs of polarised opinions although candidates are coming from different backgrounds ranging from those of Islamist persuasion to the broadly secular and everything in-between. Indeed it is the number of Islamist candidates throwing their hats into the ring that is indicative of how far the region has come from the aftermath of the civil strife when the Islamist organisation Al Itihad Al Islami (AIAI) and late Col Yusuf came face to face in combat. Back then the founder of Puntland state and later the first president of the transitional federal government, Col Yusuf, was battling Gen Aidiid’s notoriously ruthless militia, when the now defunct AIAI stabbed him in the back attacking the port city of Bosaso the only source of revenue for his forces.
In his memoirs the Colonel made no attempt to disguise his fury and determination to see off the challenge posed by the adversary from within before facing the enemy at the gates. The ensuing battles spelled the end of that organisation in Puntland regions with most of their leaders retreating under fire heading southwards. Those who stayed behind in contrast turned their backs on politics and instead concentrated on business, developing educational institutions and philanthropy. Today a string of primary and secondary schools, universities as well as other centres of learning and charity are run or financed by former members of AIAI. It is in the business sector, however where they made the most significant impact dominating almost all areas of economic activity.
The fact that individuals in the forefront and on the wrong side of those events are now candidates with a fighting chance is an indication of how things have moved on from the region’s troubled past. They have come a long way from a pariah status, perceived as the fifth column, to that of respected business and community leaders.
There is unease however expressed in some quarters , although not widespread, doubting whether it is the right time for Islamists past or present to take over power in Puntland in the current political climate. It is not only conviction politicians that are part of this competition but there are others too. Thrill-seeking eccentrics with some money to spend are also drawn into the campaign trail by the publicity potential of the occasion. There is also the other kind of a candidate; “the here I come band”. Those who see this as a launch pad for their future political careers, interested in attracting enough attention to be considered for plumb portfolios by a winning candidate. The irony is apparently lost on them that they are starting their political debut right at the very top only to work their way downwards. And then there is the awkward squad, former members of governments past and present who amassed wealth whilst in office and hoping to make a comeback. Of all the candidates in the running they are the ones described in the most unflattering terms.
That leaves the scene set for the campaign proper and the real choice in this election; the current leader and his main challenger, the former federal Prime Minister Messrs Farole and Gas. Early salvos fired indicate a bitter struggle ahead - each candidate intent on going for the jugular to beat his opponent. It is curtains for the political career of any of the two men losing this critical vote. Retirement in exile for the president and a return to oblivion and a teaching post in a little know suburb for his competitor. With the stakes so high the international community has an important role to play to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.
They can remind the regime that they are in effect a caretaker administration tasked only with the job of maintaining order and overseeing the smooth running of the election process. With no scrutiny by lawmakers the executive have no mandate to embark on new initiatives or make major changes to improve their electoral fortunes by stealth during the lame duck period. The message should also be sent out loud and clear that spoilers endangering the stability of the region will not be tolerated.
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