War-torn Somalia’s new Parliament was due to be convened 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.
Lawmakers would gather not in the city’s Parliament building, but rather Mogadishu’s heavily fortified airport zone under the protection of African Union troops, due to fear of attack by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab insurgents.
Selection of the new legislature was the first performed 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.
The airport adjoins the base for the nearly 17,000-strong A.U. force, which has propped up Somalia’s Western-backed leadership against attacks by the hard-line al-Shabab.
The new Parliament was expected to hold its inaugural session on the airport tarmac, with the election of Speaker and President expected in coming days.
“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.”
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 U.N., A.U., United States and European Union issued on Sunday.
Analysts have taken a far gloomier outlook on the process, suggesting it offers little but a reshuffling of positions.
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.
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 U.N. 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 Mr. Sharif has rejected.
Despite the new Parliament convening at the airport, 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 A.U., Somali and Ethiopian troops has driven the al-Shabab insurgents from a string of key bases in recent months, but fighters have also staged a string of guerrilla attacks. — AFP