Somalia leaders fail to reach deal on elections

The impasse threatens a constitutional crisis in the fragile Horn of Africa nation that is already confronting a violent Islamist insurgency, a locust invasion and serious food shortages.
The impasse threatens a constitutional crisis in the fragile Horn of Africa nation that is already confronting a violent Islamist insurgency, a locust invasion and serious food shortages. STUART PRICE AU-UN IST/AFP/File
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Mogadishu (AFP)

Emergency talks between Somalia's divided political leaders have ended without agreement on how to proceed with elections, a government minister has announced just days before the president's mandate expires.

Somalia is likely to miss a February 8 deadline to choose a new president after days of negotiations between the central government and federal states collapsed Friday without resolution over the disputed electoral process.

The impasse threatens a constitutional crisis in the fragile Horn of Africa nation that is already confronting a violent Islamist insurgency, a locust invasion and serious food shortages.

"The government offered to negotiate and settle all the disputed issues, but some brothers have failed to understand, and refused to resolve the issues," Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe told reporters in the capital Mogadishu late Friday.

"The government has shown flexibility to compromise, gentleness and readiness to negotiate, but some leaders tried to exploit that openness to seek more. That will not work."

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is seeking a second term in office, is expected to announce another round of talks at a joint sitting of parliament on Saturday.

He reached an agreement with the leaders of Somalia's five semi-autonomous regions on September 17 paving the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.

But the deal fell apart as disagreements over how to conduct the process exacerbated tensions between the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, and some regional rivals.

- 'Stop meddling' -

One of the biggest bones of contention is the election in Gedo in Jubbaland state, a region long embroiled in a power struggle with Mogadishu, and the scene of violent clashes between local and national forces.

Jubbaland leader Ahmed Madobe accused Farmajo of trying to control the Gedo vote from Mogadishu, and rejecting "every possible solution" put forward to resolve a stalemate over the administration of the poll.

"We have previously asked the president to stop meddling with the election process and stick to his campaign, but this didn't happen," Madobe said on Friday.

Dubbe said the government "tried hard to have an election in Gedo region similar to that of other states, however Jubbaland refused that".

- International concern -

Somalia's foreign backers, which support the weak central government in Mogadishu with critical security and financial assistance, warned this week against any attempts at shortcuts.

"We underscore that any alternative outcomes, including a parallel process or partial elections, or other measures short of an agreed electoral process, would be a setback that would not obtain the support of partners," the United Nations, African Union and other international partners said in a statement on Thursday.

Somalia had set itself the goal of holding its first one-person, one-vote ballot since 1969, a pursuit hailed by the UN as a "historic milestone" on the country's path to full democratisation and peace after decades of war and violent instability.

But the central government only controls a part of its national territory and frequent attacks by the Al-Shabaab Islamist militant group, among other governance challenges, made such an exercise seem increasingly unlikely.

Instead, the one-person, one-vote model was abandoned for a complex indirect system where special delegates chosen by clan elders pick the country's lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

While the process mirrors the last election held in 2017, it was to go a bit further in terms of inclusivity, with 27,775 delegates voting -- almost twice as many as last time.