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Friday, August 31, 2012

Somalia sets presidential election for Sept 10

Somalia’s parliament will hold a presidential election on September 10, the final stage of a UN-backed process to set up a new administration for the war-torn country, an election official said on Friday.

“September 10, 2012, is the day that the presidential elections of the Somali Federal Republic will take place,” Osman Libah Ibrahim, spokesman for the presidential elections committee, told reporters. The new parliament, whose members were selected this month by a group of traditional elders, will vote in a secret ballot.

The election has already been delayed several times - having already missed an August 20 deadline - but international pressure has increased on lawmakers to hold the vote swiftly. At least a dozen candidates are expected to run for the top job, although officials will only begin accepting applications from September 3.

However, bitter arguments have begun between rival challengers, divided along Somalia’s notoriously fractious clan lines, and the United Nations Security Council repeated warnings this week of “intimidation and corruption”. The council warned of its “willingness to take action against individuals whose acts threaten the peace, stability or security of Somalia.”

Outgoing president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in power since 2009, is one of the favourites, though he cuts a controversial figure with Western observers. A UN 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 Sharif has rejected.

Veteran politician and former minister Mohamed Osman Jawari, a legal expert who helped draft a new constitution for Somalia, was elected speaker on Tuesday by fellow lawmakers. Candidates will give their campaign speeches to parliament from September 7. Somalia is trying to set up its first stable central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which sparked rounds of bloody civil war.

The political developments come as African Union and Somali troops make significant gains against the al Qaeda linked Shebab, although the rebels remain a major security threat. Ethiopian troops are also battling the militants from the south and west. The extremist insurgents this week abandoned the port of Marka, leaving the Shebab with two major ports in southern Somalia - Barawe and the key rebel bastion of Kismayo - although an international naval blockade has already greatly squeezed maritime access there. afp