Somalia Swears in Parliament, Misses Deadline for Presidency

Somalia Swears in Parliament, Misses Deadline for Presidency
Somalia inaugurated 215 of 275 legislators late yesterday on the tarmac of the airport in Mogadishu. Photographer: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

Somalia swore in a parliament in time for a deadline to transition to a permanent government, while failing to elect a speaker and president to start the 16th attempt at establishing a national authority since 1991.

The Horn of Africa nation inaugurated 215 of 275 legislators late yesterday on the tarmac of the airport in Mogadishu, the capital, surrounded by African Union soldiers and encircled by vehicles that illuminated the proceedings with headlights. The transitional government was supposed to have elected a president and speaker by yesterday, although it now has enough legislators to make laws.

“Today’s events are the culmination of over 12 months of arduous and contentious political negotiations,” Augustine Mahiga, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Somalia envoy, said in an e-mailed statement. The ceremony starts the “last phase of the transition which will be completed in the coming days.”

The election of the speaker, deputy speaker and president will complete a plan to create a functioning central government to end a 21-year cycle of clan-based civil war that began with the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The insecurity has let piracy, kidnapping and corruption flourish, and given al-Qaeda and its Somali affiliate, al-Shabaab, a regional base.

The political advances come as African Union, Ethiopian and Somalia troops press a campaign to weaken al-Shabaab’s grip on territory in central and southern parts of the country.

Awaiting Elections

Al-Shabaab has fought against the transitional government and its predecessor since at least 2006 to establish strict Islamic law, although they have over the past year been forced out of Mogadishu and other towns and cities by the joint offensive.

Elections for the speaker and deputy will be held on Aug. 26, General Muse Hassan Abdulle, named the acting speaker because he is the eldest legislator, said after the ceremony.

There was no date given for the presidential vote. The remaining parliamentarians will be named soon, Halima Ismail Ibrahim, who headed the technical selection committee that vetted legislators, said at the inauguration.

“It is really an historic event to collect together such broad-based Somali scholars from inside and outside the country,” lawmaker Mohamed Hassan said at the inauguration. “We have to manage to steer the current corruption situation away from our country.”

Slush Fund

A UN report published in July says graft, fraud, and theft of public resources are “a system of governance” in Somalia and that revenue intended for development has gone missing, including $131 million in 2009-10. The report also said plans to print currency notes may have been an attempt to create a “political slush fund” to influence the election.

The U.S. urged the parliament to hold elections quickly.

“Any attempt to impede the political transition will not be tolerated,” the White House said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “All parties must work in a fair and transparent manner and will be held accountable for any failure to do so.”

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