In Somalia, presidential election with few voters

Associated Press
In this photo taken  Wednesday, Aug 1, 2012, Somali president  Sharif Sheik Ahmed,  in Mogadishu, Somalia. Somali leaders are on the verge of naming a new parliament that is supposed to elect a president by Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, but it's hard to find any ordinary Somalis excited by the political changes: They don't have the right to vote. (AP Photo)
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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali leaders are on the verge of naming a new parliament that is supposed to elect a president by Monday, but it's hard to find any ordinary Somalis excited by the political changes: They don't have the right to vote.

Monday marks the end of eight years of rule by a U.N.-backed leadership structure known as the Transitional Federal Government. Somali leaders this weekend are finalizing the names on a new 275-member parliament, whose members are supposed to vote in a new president. About 24 candidates are running for president. The president will then choose a prime minister.

Many of the candidates for president — including current President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and the parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden — already serve in a government that has been hammered by corruption allegations.

Behind-the-scenes political efforts involving bribes and intimidation appear to have marred the selection of the parliament. The U.N. has warned repeatedly of "spoilers" in the political process.

"I don't think there'll be a difference because the same people are still here and the election may not be fair," said Abdinur Yusuf, a Mogadishu resident. "We only care about stability, so we pray peace will prevail and corruption will come to an end."

Though residents can't vote, political campaigns are still in high gear, as candidates try to win last-minute political points in hopes of leading this war-scarred Horn of Africa nation. Election posters hang on buildings and from cars.

Candidates have bought political ads on local TV and radio, and higher-end hotels are hosting campaign ceremonies. The candidates are pledging good governance and the preservation of women's rights.

"They pledge and break promises when they are elected. That's normal," Habiba Yusuf, a 62-year-old refugee and a mother of four, said. "Nothing is beyond lip service for them. May Allah bring us a talented president, because without it we won't be out of misery and insecurity."

Augustine Mahiga, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, said the U.N. continues to receive credible information from Somali and international sources that some Somali leaders are using bribery, intimidation and violence to influence the selection parliament. He expressed "deep concern" that the board known as the Technical Selection Committee, which is helping decide who can be on the parliament, is being targeted by "negative elements."

Some candidates for parliament have been disqualified for having criminal backgrounds by the selection committee.

Despite the pessimism from an electorate that doesn't vote, Somalia's future looks brighter than it has since 1991, when it descended into warlord-driven anarchy.

African Union and Somali troops last year pushed al-Shabab militants out of Mogadishu, allowing businesses, the arts and sports leagues to thrive. In recent months the coalition has been slowly expanding its area of control. But Somalia is still years away from being secure enough to hold a nation-wide vote. Al-Shabab militants still control many parts of south-central Somalia.

Earlier this month Somali leaders endorsed a new provisional constitution that expands rights for Somali citizens. The U.N. — which helped broker the constitution and is in charge of this weekend's political votes — hopes that one day all of Somalia will be able to vote to endorse or reject the constitution.

Even the parliament and presidential vote is a sign of progress. Previous political meetings were held outside Mogadishu or in neighboring countries because militants then controlled Mogadishu.

"Despite some visible mismanagement, we wish for a free and fair election," said Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a former prime minister and a current presidential candidate from Buffalo, New York.

Somalia's government has done little in recent years to win the confidence of Somalis. Until last year the government controlled only a small part of Mogadishu. Though daily warfare no longer takes place, the government has had no response to criminal violence in the city. Nine media workers have been killed this year, and no one has been arrested for the deaths.

"This government has not properly dealt with the security issues other than fighting," said Abdirahman Abdishakur, a Somali presidential candidate.

Mohamed Abdullahi, a Mogadishu resident who watches politics carefully, said that Somalia is at a crossroads and can't afford to miss the opportunity to take a political step forward.

"The country needs a government that can pacify the country and open doors for multinational development that we badly need to jump start our economy and rebuild the country," he said.

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