Somali parliament sworn in

2012-08-20 22:17
Newly elected members of parliament put their hands on the Qur’an to take oath, during the swearing in ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in twenty years, at Aden Abdulle International Airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu. (Farah A

Newly elected members of parliament put their hands on the Qur’an to take oath, during the swearing in ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in twenty years, at Aden Abdulle International Airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu. (Farah A

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Mogadishu - War-torn Somalia's new parliament was sworn in on Monday on the tarmac of the capital's airport in a ceremony protected by African Union troops, the latest bid to end two decades of conflict.

However, the election of a new president was delayed. Lawmakers said the process would begin in a "few days", with multiple candidates vying in a fierce race to unseat incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

The swearing-in, the culmination of a UN-backed process in which lawmakers were chosen by a group of 135 traditional elders, brought an official end to Somalia's transitional government after eight years of political infighting and rampant corruption.

Somalia has not had a stable central government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which sparked rounds of bloody civil war and two decades of chaos.

Lawmakers said the usual parliament building was too dangerous to hold their first symbolic meeting for fear of attack by the country's al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents.

After the parliament's interim speaker Musa Hassan Abdallah appealed for a "safe haven" the session was moved to the heavily fortified airport zone, adjoining the base for the nearly 17 000-strong AU force that has propped up the Western-backed transitional leadership against attacks by the Shabaab.

"Somalis have been through over 20 years of chaos... people are ready for a new day in Somalia," said Hussein Arab Isse, a lawmaker and defence minister in the previous government.

"As soon as possible we will have elections for the speaker, and then the president, in the next few days or weeks," he added.

So far over 200 lawmakers - but still short of the full 275 members of the new parliament - have been named by a "technical selection committee" from a list prepared by clan elders, with others pending due to inter-clan arguments.

Innocent

Some 70 others were rejected for failing to meet requirements, including that they be innocent of atrocities committed during the civil war.

"The transition has come to an end.... We have a sovereign parliament with a functional majority, so we are ready to go," Peter de Clercq, deputy head of the UN in Somalia, told Al-Jazeera, adding the full parliament would be ready in the "next week or so".

Despite delays, the process of forming a new government was hailed as an "unprecedented opportunity for greater peace and stability" in a joint statement from the UN, AU, United States and European Union issued Sunday.

"The conclusion of the transition should mark the beginning of more representative government in Somalia," added the statement, also signed by Norway, Turkey and East Africa's main diplomatic body IGAD, among others.

However, analysts have taken a far gloomier outlook on the process, suggesting it offers little but a reshuffling of positions.

"The current political process has been as undemocratic as the one it seeks to replace, with unprecedented levels of political interference, corruption and intimidation," the International Crisis Group think tank said Monday.

Bitter arguments have begun between challengers for the top posts - divided along Somalia's notoriously fractious clan lines - while many are also reported to oppose the selection of women, who are supposed to hold 30% of parliament seats.

The international statement made clear lawmakers must change their behaviour from the actions of the previous parliament.

Warlordism

"Whilst parliament remains a selected rather than elected body, it is essential that it cuts its ties with the past of self-interest and warlordism," it said.

There was no clear time-frame for when lawmakers would hold key votes by secret ballot to choose a president, a parliament speaker and two deputy speakers.

Sharif, the outgoing president and in power since 2009, is one of the favourites for the top job, though he is a controversial figure with Western observers.

A UN report in July said that under his presidency, "systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems" - claims Sharif has rejected.

Many candidates - over a dozen, according to diplomats - are expected to run for the presidency, including Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and the outgoing parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan.

Despite the new parliament convening at the airport, massive steps forward have been made recently in Somalia, with greatly improved security in the capital.

A military advance by AU, Somali and Ethiopian troops has driven the Shabaab insurgents from a string of key bases in recent months, but fighters have also staged a string of guerilla attacks.

Read more on:    au  |  sheikh sharif sheikh ahmed  |  somalia  |  east africa

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