Somalia on Monday began electing lawmakers for its lower house of parliament, the next phase in a long-delayed and turbulent process toward a presidential vote that has sometimes turned violent.
The first two lawmakers for the next 275-member lower house of national parliament were elected at a voting ceremony in the capital Mogadishu under heavy security.
“I am delighted that today we have officially started the election of the Somali lower house,” Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said in a brief statement afterwards.
Somalia has not held a one-man one-vote election in 50 years. Monday’s ballot followed a complex indirect model used in the past to choose new leaders in the troubled Horn of Africa country.
Nearly 30,000 clan delegates are assigned to choose the 275 MPs for the lower house, while Somalia’s five state legislatures elect senators for the 54-member upper house.
Once elected and sworn in, both houses of parliament then vote for the next president.
The multi-stage election has been delayed more than a year by political feuds at the highest levels of government.
In April, pro-government and opposition fighters opened fire in the streets of Mogadishu after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed extended his term in office without holding fresh elections.
The constitutional crisis was only defused when President Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo, reversed the term extension and his prime minister, Roble, brokered a timetable to a vote.
But in the months after a bitter rivalry between the men derailed the election again, straining ties with Western allies long impatient for the process to finish peacefully.
Farmajo and Roble only agreed to bury the hatchet last month, and issued a unified call for the glacial election process to accelerate.
– Overdue –
Votes for the upper house of parliament have finished in all states but Galmudug.
“I request that Somalia’s member states begin elections for the lower house as soon as possible, and look forward to seeing that the process completed peacefully,” Roble added.
The two lawmakers elected Monday will be among 46 MPs to notionally represent the northwestern region of Somaliland, a breakaway republic not recognised by other nations.
Somaliland declared independence in 1991 and while it runs itself like a de facto state, Somalia still considers it sovereign territory and assigns it seats in national parliament.
The vote for the remaining Somaliland MPs will take place over coming days in Mogadishu.
Last month election officials said they expected the lower-house election to conclude by early December, with a presidential vote by the end of the year.
Somalia’s last direct election was in 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup and went on to rule for two decades.
Analysts say the election impasse has distracted from Somalia’s larger problems, most notably the violent Al-Shabaab insurgency.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and continue to stage deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere.