Somali lawmakers elect academic and civic activist as president

Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Lawmakers overwhelmingly elected an academic and civic activist as president of Somalia on Monday, in a United Nations-backed effort to put the country's lawless past behind it and forge the first stable central government in more than two decades.

Hassan Sheik Mohamud defeated 22 candidates, including outgoing President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, and outgoing Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. The victor, a former UNICEF official and founder of the opposition Peace and Development Party, is seen as a progressive.

Sharif, who came in second, was accused in a recent U.N. report of running a deeply corrupt government. The report to the Security Council said under Sharif “systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems.” Sharif has denied the claims.

Questions remain about whether Mohamud will face violent opposition from Somali clan warlords, and whether the losing candidates will accept the result and embrace the new president. He faces a delicate task in appointing a new government that will balance the interests of Somalia’s competing clans.

Somalia has had no effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Siad Barre, which saw the country collapse into chaos and infighting between clan warlords, Islamic militancy, piracy and kidnappings. Basic government services such as decent hospitals and clinics are almost nonexistent.

The vote was being closely watched by the international community, which underwrote the expensive, eight-year transition. The previous transitional government expired last month.

Monday's vote has largely been made possible by the weakening of an Al Qaeda linked militia, Al Shabab, which controlled most of the country until last August, when it withdrew from the capital, Mogadishu. It has since lost more territory and African Union forces are fighting to dislodge Al Shabab from its most important remaining base, the port of Kismayo, the militia’s main source of revenue from tax and trade.

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--Lufti Sheriff Mohamed in Mogadishu and Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo: A Somali boy on Sunday walks past a campaign billboard of incumbent President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed reading 'Vote carefully for justice' in the capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday. On Monday, Sharif was defeated in the presidential election by academic and activist Hassan Sheik Mohamud. Credit: Elyas Ahmed / European Pressphoto Agency. 

 
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