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Somali lawmakers to elect new president


MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somalia's newly appointed legislature elects the country's next president Monday, in a fresh bid to end two decades of unstable central government in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.

The election will complete a complex process set in motion through a UN-backed agreement aimed at ending eight years of rule by Somalia's graft-riddled, Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and, it is hoped, will bring peace.

Outgoing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in power since 2009, is one of the favourites for the top job, though he cuts a controversial figure with Western observers.

A UN report in July said that under his presidency, "systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misapproriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems".

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and the outgoing parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan are also contenders for the post.

Somalia has lacked an effective central government since president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, unleashing cycles of conflict that have defied countless peace initiatives.

Ruthless warlords and militia groups including Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents have controlled mini-fiefdoms that the African Union and other troops have only recently started to reconquer.

With several previous attempts at installing a new central government ending in failure, the international community has done everything to ensure that this latest deadline of August 20 -- when the TFG's mandate expires -- succeeds.

On Monday, the new parliament -- comprising a 275-member lower house and a yet-to-be-launched upper house with a maximum of 54 members -- will hold its first session to vote for the president.

The vote will only go ahead if a quorum of more than two-thirds of the lower house -- 184 members -- is present.

But doubts remain that the transition process will be successfully completed.

"We are heading towards a botched process," said one Western diplomat, adding that an extension of the deadline by "a month, maximum" would have bought the time needed to give parliament some legitimacy.

Speaking in early August, UN special representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga condemned "the dealing in favours, the bribes and intimidation" seen during the appointment of the country's new lawmakers.

The names of over 200 new parliamentarians chosen by a technical selection committee from a list prepared by tribal elders were published late Friday.

The remaining 75 names were still pending at the weekend "because of inter-clan argument and other reasons related to a lack of fulfillment of the conditions," according to committe co-chair Halimo Yarey.

Some 70 nominees were rejected because they did not meet the requirements to serve in parliament. Lawmakers must be Somali citizens of sound mind, have a high school diploma and be free of ties to warlords or links to atrocities committed during the country's civil war.

Each of Somalia's four main clan families -- the Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Rahanweyn -- are represented.

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