Somalia swears in federal lawmakers who will pick future president

By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar.  Almost 300 members of Somalia’s federal parliament were sworn in on Tuesday, although parliament’s election of a new president to head the government was postponed.

The ceremony at least gives the chronically unstable Horn of Africa country a quorate assembly, four weeks after the conclusion of a month-long election conducted among 14,000 representative citizens.

The lawmakers were supposed to pick a new president on Wednesday, but the electoral commission said on Tuesday that the vote had been postponed to an as yet unspecified date.

“As you witnessed, 243 lawmakers and 38 upper house members have been sworn in,” Abdikarim haji Abdi, the chief secretary of Somalia’s federal parliament, told reporters at a police training camp in the capital Mogadishu, where the ceremony took place.

This left 32 members of the lower house still to be sworn in, because their elections either had not yet taken place or were disputed. In addition, 34 new seats in the upper house were only created by the electoral committee last week for the six federal states, in order to resolve a disagreement.

Once all the remaining seats are filled, the parliament will have a total complement of 347 legislators. However, the 281 already sworn-in are enough to be able to elect a president.

Plagued by Islamist militancy, famine and maritime piracy, Somalia has been at war for more than a quarter of a century, but diplomats and some citizens hope the current political process will help bring some stability.

Legislator Khalif Sheikh Abdullahi told Reuters before the swearing-in ceremony that the oldest MP would temporarily act as House speaker, in line with the constitution, until a full-time speaker was elected.

Somalia’s weak U.N.-backed government is dependent on foreign funds to pay the fledgling armed forces and a contingent of 22,000 African Union peacekeepers.

The outgoing parliament, elected in 2012, was picked by 135 elders. The government said threats from the al Qaeda-linked insurgents of al Shabaab made a one-person, one-vote election this year impossible, but that the choice of 14,000 representative electors did constitute progress towards democracy. (Writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Elias Biryabarema and Kevin Liffey)



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