Somali president challenged in his bid to secure new term

FILE PHOTO: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, president of Somalia
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GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia's president, whose four-year term expired this month, should not take part in talks aimed at resolving a dispute that has caused a delay in choosing a new head of state, two of Somalia's five regional governments said on Sunday.

Parliament had been due to make a choice on Feb. 8, but this was delayed because new lawmakers have yet to be picked while opponents of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is seeking a second term, accuse him of packing his supporters into the regional and national boards who choose the legislators.

The delay has stoked tensions in the Horn of Africa nation that was ripped apart by civil war and which is still battling an insurgency by al Shabaab, an Islamist group that frequently launches attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

The government of Jubbaland, one of Somalia's five regions, said the president's term had expired and he should be excluded from any talks on the dispute.

"He should not have a role in the process of election in order for all political stakeholders to have confidence in it," Jubbaland's state house said in a statement.

A second state, Puntland shared similar sentiments.

"We are not going to a conference with Farmajo..." its president Said Abdulahi Deni said in a televised speech.

The constitution allows the head of state to continue in post until a new president is picked, if parliament approves. But experts say the president, by staying on, risks upsetting the delicate power balance between rival clans and regions that is at the heart of the nation's political reconstruction effort.

The central government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

The president held a meeting on Sunday with the prime minister and presidents of the Hirshabele, Galmudug and South West states, as well U.N. representatives and Mogadishu's mayor.

The meeting was reported by the state-run Somalia News Agency. The Facebook page of the president's office said it was a preliminary meeting, without saying when more talks would be held.

An alliance of opposition parties said in early February they would reject any attempt to extend Mohamed's term, calling a national council of lawmakers, opposition leaders and civil society to rule until a successor was chosen.

Government troops and opposition supporters exchanged gunfire in Mogadishu on Friday during a protest over the delayed vote. Rival presidential candidates have called for more protests until a new head of state is chosen.

Somalia had planned to hold elections to pick a president and lawmakers, its first direct vote since civil war erupted in 1991. But delays in preparations and al Shabaab attacks meant this was replaced by an indirect vote in which lawmakers are picked by selected elders and others.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Edmund Blair)