Opposition MPs sworn in as Somali plan advances

January 29th, 2009 | by addis portal |

DJIBOUTI, Jan 28 (Reuters) – Somalia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to extend its mandate until August 2011 and began swearing in new members from the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).

The moves showed politicians in the Horn of Africa nation are pressing ahead quickly with a U.N.-brokered reconciliation process being hosted in neighbouring Djibouti, and make it more likely a new president will be elected there this week.

The previous Western-backed government failed to establish stability in a country where more than 16,000 civilians have been killed in the past two years. The chaos onshore has allowed piracy to flourish in Somalia’s waters.

International players such as the United Nations and African Union (AU) have been cracking the whip to get a more inclusive parliament up and running and a president elected in time to attend an African leaders’ summit in Ethiopia on Sunday.

The new president’s main challenge will be to bring security to Somalia after 18 years of violence. That will depend on persuading al Shabaab, a hardline Islamist fighting group, to end an armed campaign to impose a strict version of Islamic law.

Just hours after Ethiopian troops who had been propping up the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) pulled out of Somalia on Monday, al Shabaab captured the seat of parliament. The capital Mogadishu could also be at risk of more attacks.

ISLAMIST CANDIDATE

Another challenge will be to try to encourage the hardline Islamist opposition based in Eritrea to join the political process — a move they have rejected so far.

Moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the presidential candidate from the ARS, was the first new opposition member of parliament to be sworn in. Candidates put their hand on the Koran and swore they would protect the country’s constitution.

Abdirahman Warsame, from the ARS central committee, said 186 of its 200 new parliament members were present at the ceremony.

Outside the meeting in Djibouti’s People’s Palace conference centre, presidential candidates handed out their CVs to members of parliament and had their photos taken with them.

The list of candidates is growing daily. Besides Ahmed and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, there are members of the TFG, a former prime minister and academic living in the United States, and others from the Somali diaspora.

Hussein and Ahmed are currently seen as frontrunners. But if one wins, the other would not be able to become prime minister as they are from the same clan.

Somalia’s political framework aims to ensure major clan groups are all represented in government.

The United Nations’ envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, hopes the election of a president by parliament will take place on Friday so the winner can be sworn in on Saturday and attend the summit in Ethiopia the next day.

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