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Somalia gets new parliament but still waiting for new president

August 20, 2012 |  9:16 am

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Somalia's new parliament was due to convene Monday, but a scheduled presidential vote was not being held. No firm date has been given for the vote, which could be delayed days or weeks.

The government changeover comes as the mandate for Somalia's unpopular United Nations-backed transitional government expired, a moment Somalis hope will lead to peace and stability after more than two decades of lawlessness and violence.

Once the parliament has elected a new speaker, a process expected to take a few days, legislators are due to vote in a new president. He would appoint a prime minister, who in turn would appoint the new Cabinet.

Many Somalis see the transition process as the country’s best hope for peace and stability since the fall of dictator Siad Barre 21 years ago. Countless efforts to forge a stable government since then have failed.

The parliament is being selected by 135 clan elders. A technical committee excluded about 70 people from taking seats for having been associated with violence, warlordism or crime.

So far, 225 members of the 275-seat lower house of parliament have been chosen, enough for a quorum.

For many years, Somalia was wracked by violence between competing clan warlords, who were eventually toppled in 2006. Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militia designated as a terror group by the U.S, controlled much of the country from January 2009 until last August, when it abandoned the capital and pulled back to its stronghold in the south.

Al Shabab still carries out suicide bombings and other attacks in the capital and controls two important ports in the south, at Kismayo and Merca.

The new parliament was to convene at a location inside the airport "green zone," a heavily guarded compound next to the African Union force base, seen as the most secure place in Mogadishu.

A joint statement by the U.N., the African Union, the United States and the European Union said the transition process was an unprecedented opportunity for stability and peace in Somalia.

"The conclusion of the transition should mark the beginning of more representative government in Somalia," the statement issued Sunday said. "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, and is populated by a new generation of Somali politicians, including the proper representation of Somali women."

More than a dozen candidates are expected to seek the presidency, including the outgoing president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and the speaker of the previous parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan. Both were accused of corruption in a recent U.N. report.

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is another prominent contender for the post.

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-- Robyn Dixon

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