Interim parliament elects new president

Somalia’s interim parliament, the Transitional National Assembly (TNA), on Saturday elected Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, 58, a former government minister and member of the Hawiye clan, as the country’s first president in nearly a decade.

His victory was announced at 2:45 a.m. after more than 10 hours of voting by legislators meeting in the small town of Arta in neighbouring Djibouti. He beat his closest rival, Abdullahi Ahmed Addow, 64, by 145 votes to 92, easily getting more than the simple majority of 123 votes required.

Voting at the conference tent in Arta started with a field of more than 20 candidates at 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday after introductions by the new parliamentary speaker, Abdullahi Derow Issak. Three hours later, after that first round of voting, four main candidates emerged. In the second round, there was much horse-trading as the top candidates sought to shore up deals with those running third and fourth. But before the second round started, the fourth-placed candidate, Ali Mahdi Mohamed announced his withdrawal, drawing a large round of applause, as he called on everyone to support the winning candidate and said he had always called for an elected, democratic government.

“I never thought I would see the day when Ali Mahdi withdrew in order to drop votes in a ballot box,” said one emotional observer. As the next round of voting got underway, it became clear that a shift in favour of Hassan - who was running second - had developed. The candidate running in third place, Ali Kalif Geleyr, received only two votes after an initial strong showing of 35 in the first round. Analysts saw no surprise, saying Galeyr, a Dulbahante from Somaliland and former minister who managed the Johar Sugar Factory, was a serious candidate for prime minister, rather than head of state, and that he had used the first round of voting to demonstrate this.

In the race between Addow and Hassan, the race widened quickly after a neck-to-neck start. In the final tally Hassan took 124 votes, Addow, 112 and Galeyr two. In an electric final round of voting, Galeyr and Ali Mahdi delivered votes to Hassan. As the counting started around 2:00 a.m. it became clear that Hassan had taken the presidency with the final tally of 145 votes to Addow’s 92.

After the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, diplomats said Somalia’s newly-elected transitional authority had to get international support and affirm domestic recognition. The latest attempt to restore a government to the lawless country, sponsored by Djibouti’s President Ismael Omar Guelleh, follows 12 previous unsuccessful attempts.

Although Mogadishu awoke to a series of flag-waving demonstrations and celebratory gun-fire on Saturday, some faction leaders reaffirmed their opposition to the Djibouti process and a new administration they claimed had been imposed by foreigners. The radio station loyal to Hussein Aideed, one of the country’s most prominent faction leaders, reiterated his refrain that he would oppose any new parliament and government which seeks to establish control of the country.

But in an interview with IRIN, the Chairman of the Islamic Courts in Somalia, Hassan Sheik Mohamed Abdi, said he believed 95 percent of people would back the new administration and that the courts’ own security services would provide protection for the new government.