A 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.
The first Constitution of the independent State of Somaliland set up a parliamentary state in which the Government was part of Legislature and has to keep the latter’s confidence for its continued existence. The Somali Republic 1960 Constitution also set up a parliamentary system with the Government headed by a prime minister who although appointed by a President (elected by the legislature) was expected to obtain and keep the confidence of the Legislature (the National Assembly) for his Government to survive. Leaving aside the long period of military dictatorship, Somalilanders were therefore more familiar with the 1960s “parliamentary” systems of government, until May 1991 when, during 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 on 30th April 2000 and endorsed at the national referendum held on 31 May 2001.
On the previous terms of both Houses, see here: Representatives. Elders
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 their 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. Somaliland has, by law, only three political parties, and in the election, the President’s party garnered the largest share of the 82 seats, but failed to have overall control of the House. The two other parties have agreed to work together and have currently assumed the leadership of the House. 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 agianst the dicatorship. The procedures for the indirect (or direct) election of the Elders is currently under discussion although the House has, rather controversially extended its term of office (on the proposal of the President) for an four years from October 2006.
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.
Under Article 18(1) of the House of Representatives Standing Rules, the House shall have the following Standing Committees:
- the permanent Committee;
- the economic, finance and commerce committee;
- the social and religious affairs committee;
- the environment, livestock, agriculture and natural resources committee;
- the internal affairs, security and defence committee;
- the foreign affairs, international co-operation and national planning;
- the constitution, Justice and human rights committee.
Ad hoc Committees may also be formed (Rule 19). The Committees usually meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays (Rule 20(9)).
Under the House of Elders Rules, the standing committees of the House are the permanent committee, and four other committees that deal with security, the economy, social affairs, and law & justice (Article 7). The House may also have ad hoc committees and fact finding missions (Article 34).