Mogadishu – War-torn Somalia’s new parliament was sworn in on Monday on the tarmac of the capital’s airport in a ceremony protected by African Union troops, the latest bid to end two decades of conflict.
However, the election of a new president was delayed. Lawmakers said the process would begin in a “few days”, with multiple candidates vying in a fierce race to unseat incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The swearing-in, the culmination of a UN-backed process in which lawmakers were chosen by a group of 135 traditional elders, brought an official end to Somalia’s transitional government after eight years of political infighting and rampant corruption.
Somalia has not had a stable central government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which sparked rounds of bloody civil war and two decades of chaos.
Lawmakers said the usual parliament building was too dangerous to hold their first symbolic meeting for fear of attack by the country’s al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents.
After the parliament’s interim speaker Musa Hassan Abdallah appealed for a “safe haven” the session was moved to the heavily fortified airport zone, adjoining the base for the nearly 17 000-strong AU force that has propped up the Western-backed transitional leadership against attacks by the Shabaab.
“Somalis have been through over 20 years of chaos… people are ready for a new day in Somalia,” said Hussein Arab Isse, a lawmaker and defence minister in the previous government.
“As soon as possible we will have elections for the speaker, and then the president, in the next few days or weeks,” he added.
So far over 200 lawmakers – but still short of the full 275 members of the new parliament – have been named by a “technical selection committee” from a list prepared by clan elders, with others pending due to inter-clan arguments.