Somalia swears in new MPs amid vote criticism

Mogadishu (AFP) –


Somalia on Tuesday swore in new lawmakers after weeks of voting in a complex political process seen as its most democratic election in nearly five decades, despite significant flaws.

The new parliament was inaugurated under tight security in Mogadishu two months after voting began. Lawmakers are expected to elect a president by secret ballot, however it was unclear when that would take place.

The vote for president has been put off several times as a result of delays in the election of lawmakers due to clan disputes, accusations of fraud, and organisational challenges.

Top election official Omar Mohamed Abdulle said 284 members of parliament were sworn in. Some lawmakers were absent while other seats were still subject to disputes.

Somalis had been promised a national election this year, however infighting, insecurity and lack of institutional infrastructure meant they had to settle for a "limited" political process.

This process saw clan elders pick 14,025 special delegates who voted for 275 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The country also saw the introduction of an upper house and a quota reserving 30 percent of seats for women.

While the very existence of the process is seen as somewhat of a miracle in the shattered nation, it has been riddled with vote buying, corruption and the usual clan disputes.

A last minute decision by Somali authorities to add an extra 18 seats to the upper house after complaints of insufficient representation by some clans -- bringing it to 72 members -- drew the ire of the international community.

"International partners believe that the integrity of the 2016 electoral process hangs in the balance," read a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNISOM) issued Tuesday.

The statement also took aim at the decision by officials to re-instate candidates who had been disqualified. The number of investigations into disputed seats were dropped from 11 to five without explanation.

"This fails to address a number of other egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process, including seats reserved for women candidates only that were ultimately taken by male candidates," read the statement.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre's military regime which ushered in decades of anarchy and conflict in a country deeply divided along clan lines.

The clan rivalries and lawlessness provided fertile ground for the Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab group to take hold and seize territory, frustrating efforts to set up a central administration.

After a series of transitional governments were formed abroad, a previous parliament was chosen by 135 clan elders and set up in Mogadishu in 2012.

The 2016 process is seen as taking the country a step closer to a universal suffrage election now planned for 2020.