Somali presidential election delayed

2012-08-20 12:11

Mogadishu - War-torn Somalia's new parliament is due to convene for the first time on Monday in the latest bid to end two decades of instability, but the election of a president has been delayed, lawmakers said.

The country's Western-backed transitional government ends its mandate on Monday after eight years of political infighting and rampant corruption, to be replaced by new lawmakers selected by a group of 135 traditional elders in a United Nations-backed process.

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

The new parliament was originally scheduled to elect a new president on Monday, but lawmakers said the vote had been delayed.

"The presidential elections will not be held today," said lawmaker Aweys Qarni. "The election committee must still be convened.... There is still work to go before the presidential elections."

Work to do

Abinasir Garale, who served in the previous parliament and has again been picked for the new legislature, said lawmakers would go ahead with their inaugural meeting Monday and hold elections soon.

"In coming days the new parliament will select a speaker, and they will organise the election committee for the new president," he said, adding it was expected the eldest member would chair the meeting until elections were held.

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 United Nations, African Union, 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.

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

Change needed

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

"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 voting - first for parliament speaker and two deputy speakers, then for president - would take place.

The new administration will be the first government set up inside Somalia for more than 20 years. Previous efforts were conducted outside the country because of the danger of attack posed by a range of warlords and Islamist fighters.

Outgoing President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, 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 hopefuls

Multiple candidates - over a dozen, according to diplomats - are expected to run for the presidency, although official lists will only be declared once parliament has convened.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and the outgoing parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan are also contenders.
Voting will be held by secret ballot, with up to four rounds possible to select the president.

The names of more than 200 new lawmakers chosen by a "technical selection committee" from a list prepared by clan elders were published Friday.

A remaining 75 names were still pending at the weekend because of inter-clan arguments, while some 70 other nominees were rejected because they did not meet the requirements to serve in parliament.

Lawmakers must be Somali citizens of sound mind, have a high school diploma and be free of ties to warlords or links to atrocities committed during the civil war.

Massive steps forward have been made recently in Somalia, with greatly improved security in the capital and members of the diaspora returning to invest in their war-ravaged homeland.

A military advance by nearly 17 000 AU troops, Somali forces and Ethiopian troops has driven the country's al-Qaeda-linked Shebaab insurgents from a string of key bases in recent months.