Public Support for OPOV Elections in the Wake of Puntland’s 2023-2024 Electoral Crisis

Puntland completed its most recent cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections on January 8, 2024. The re-election of President Said Abdullahi Deni was the final act in a months-long crisis, starting when local government elections were completed on May 25, 2023. During the intervening 7 months, there was significant uncertainty about the timing and format the presidential election would take; most notably, incumbent President Deni sought to implement One Person, One Vote (OPOV) elections, while the opposition viewed this as a ploy to delay elections so he could remain in office.

One month prior to the scheduled election date, an agreement in favor of indirect selection by clan elders was reached, which allowed the election to proceed. Both before and after that agreement, though, there were widespread questions about public attitudes toward OPOV elections, election delays, and other aspects of democratic governance. Did the decision to forgo OPOV elections represent a failure, or was it more important that elections — even if indirect and using the ‘old model’ — take place on time? Throughout the crisis, expert commentators, analysts, and citizens alike have had to grapple with the tangible tradeoffs between OPOV elections, on one hand, and enforcing other tenets of good governance – e.g., abiding by time-limited terms and respecting freedom of assembly – on the other. Something missing from these debates was empirical evidence on the opinions of Puntland’s citizens and their views of these tradeoffs.

This research brief provides insight into public attitudes toward the 2024 election crisis and attitudes toward elections and democratic norms more generally. Sababi teamed with the Puntland Development & Research Center (PDRC) and Somali Public Agenda (SPA) to conduct a public opinion poll in urban and rural areas of Bari, Mudug, and Nugaal between December 7, 2023 and January 3, 2024. The research brief addresses two essential questions:

  1. Which model – OPOV versus indirect, clan-based selection – did Puntland’s citizens actually prefer, in the context of the January elections?
  2. How strong are citizen preferences for OPOV elections (and other democratic norms), when balanced against competing demands?

Read the full report. Additional technical details on sample selection and analysis are available here.

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Mahad Mohamoud Ibrahim

Mahad oversees Sababi’s Somali Portfolio, including operations and administration of Sababi’s office in Hargeisa, and all aspects of fieldwork implementation. Over the last 8 years, he has managed some of the largest fieldwork initiatives in Somalia, with teams numbering up to 60 enumerators, for organizations like CARE International, UNICEF, UNOPS, Somalia Stability Fund and others. He has also collected primary data in every region of Somalia, typically on nuanced or conceptually challenging topics (e.g., constitutional reform and democratization). From 2016 to 2019 he was a Researcher and FW Manager for Forcier Consulting, after which he was the Senior Fieldwork Manager at Consilient. Mahad graduated at the top of his class (highest distinction) at Admas University with a B.B.A. in Management in 2013 and subsequently helped coordinate Admas’ distance learning program from 2014-2016.

Brenton D. Peterson

Brenton is a political scientist who studies political behavior, social identity, and survey methodology. His research has appeared in some of the top journals in political science. Within the development sector, he specializes in evaluations of large-scale education programs, political and context analyses, and research on election- or democratization-related conflict. He has led data collection in Kenya, Somalia/Somaliland, and South Sudan. Prior to Sababi, he was the Director of Research at Consilient, based in Hargeisa (2020-2022), and served as the internal technical backstop, trainer, and reviewer of research outputs as the Chief Research Quality Officer at Forcier Consulting (2015-2020). In both positions, he focused on applying the best possible research methods in contexts where standard practices break down. He was previously a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, and completed fieldwork in northern Kenya.

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Manar Zaki

Manar is a social scientist who specializes in research on access to justice, policing, and the relationships between customary and statutory institutions. Her recent work includes studies of Somalia’s customary justice system, the justice attitudes and needs of Somali women, and community-police relations. She has developed most of the internal systems Sababi uses for monitoring and assessing data quality and has managed primary data collection over 50 fieldwork initiatives in the Horn of Africa. From 2019 to 2022 she was the Research Manager and then Director at Consilient, in Hargeisa. Prior to her work in East Africa, Manar worked in both the private and nonprofit sectors in Nepal, India, Ireland, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the US. Manar holds a Masters in Development Practice from Trinity College Dublin and a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.