Somalia’s parliament voted yesterday for a new president in what the UN has described as a historic election for the war-torn nation, which has lacked an effective central government for decades.
The election is the final stage of a UN-backed process to set up a new administration for the country, whose 25 presidential hopefuls include the outgoing prime minister and president. The election has been delayed several times — having already missed an Aug. 20 deadline — but international pressure has increased on parliament to chose a president swiftly.
UN special representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga last week described it as a “historic” election, praising efforts to “move forward to a new more legitimate and representative [system].”
Analysts have taken a gloomier outlook on the process, suggesting it offers little but a reshuffling of key figures and positions.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, unleashing cycles of bloody conflict that have defied countless peace initiatives.
Ruthless warlords and militia groups including al-Shabaab insurgents have controlled mini-fiefdoms that African Union troops and other forces have only recently started to capture.
Outgoing President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in power since 2009, is one of the favorites, although he cuts 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.
“We have achieved some goals toward improved security with port, airport, bank and other national institutions operating normally,” Sharif said in a speech to parliament on Saturday.
“If you give me the opportunity for the second time to continue my work, the country will achieve more to overcome the current painful situations,” he added.
Outgoing Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, an economist, is another key candidate.
“We realized more on peace building, constitutional affairs and good governance in my 14 months of service,” he also told parliament on Saturday.
The new parliament, whose members were selected last month by a group of traditional elders, are to vote in a secret ballot in up to three rounds. Each candidate had to pay US$10,000 to enter the race.
Bitter arguments have begun between rival challengers, divided along Somalia’s notoriously fractious clan lines, and the UN Security Council has issued repeated warnings of “intimidation and corruption.”
The council has warned of its “willingness to take action against individuals whose acts threaten the peace, stability or security of Somalia.”
However, Britain’s ambassador to Somalia Matt Baugh said last week both the outgoing president and prime minister had assured him of “their commitment to respect [the] election outcome.”
A candidate needs to take two-thirds of the vote to win outright, otherwise the top four candidates go into a second round, with a third round of the final two. The winner is selected by a simple majority.