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Somalia region reverses plan for direct universal suffrage

By AFP
Somalia Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland.  By Cla PCULIER, Valentina BRESCHI AFP
DEC 7, 2023 LISTEN
Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland. By Cléa PÉCULIER, Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)

Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland has rolled back plans to hold next year's parliamentary polls via a one-person one-vote system, opting instead to continue with a complex, clan-based ballot.

In May, the oil-rich region staged its first direct polls in more than half a century during local council elections, a move hailed by international partners as historic.

At the time, opposition politicians accused Puntland state president Said Abdullahi Deni of manipulating the election procedure and seeking to amend the constitution to enable him to extend his mandate, which is due to end in January.

Deni said late Wednesday that parliamentary elections would be held on January 8 with clan representatives selecting 66 MPs.

"I am saddened to make this upsetting decision for the future of Puntland," Deni said, without elaborating on the reasons for the reversal.

Opposition politicians welcomed the new directive, which is pending parliamentary approval.

Somalia's national government and federal member states have not had direct elections since 1969, when the dictator Siad Barre seized power.

Direct voting has been held in Puntland's neighbour Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 but has never been recognised internationally.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in March pledged to end the complex indirect system in 2024.

Mohamud welcomed the decision by Puntland on Thursday, saying they are "enforcing the efforts of the traditional elders and intellectuals".

"We pray to God that the election takes place in a mutual understanding and peaceful environment," he said in a statement.

In the current set-up, clan affiliations have been the organising principle of Somali politics, with influential roles such as speaker, prime minister and president divided among the main groups.

State legislatures and clan delegates also pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.

But rivalries between the clans have resulted in decades of strife and political wrangling, which in recent years have been exploited by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants.

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