Somali parliament members sworn in amid UN criticism

AP News
Posted: Dec 27, 2016 5:49 PM

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia's chief justice swore in 243 new members of parliament Tuesday amid criticism from the international community over irregularities in their elections.

The lawmakers are to select the Horn of Africa country's president on a date to be set later. The presidential selection had been scheduled for Wednesday, but officials announced Monday that it would be delayed for a fourth time.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia called on Tuesday for a redo of the legislative balloting that began in October. It said there were a number of "egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process, including seats reserved for women candidates only that were ultimately taken by male candidates."

Violence, corruption, intimidation and the unauthorized substitution of electoral college delegates also marred voting, the U.N. Somalia mission said in a statement. It said the decision to not disqualify candidates who allegedly committed election irregularities represented a blanket amnesty.

The swearing-in ceremony was held at the heavily fortified old parliament building which is protected by blast barriers and high concrete walls. Somali police and African Union troops fanned out and largely put Mogadishu on lockdown.

"We took an oath to serve the interests of the country and religion, and we have to come up with actions reflecting them," Mohamed Omar Arteh, Somalia's deputy prime minister, told the new parliament members.

While Somalia has had transitional administrations since 2004, it has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos.

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The election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in 2012 brought in the country's first, weak, but functioning central government since Barre's ouster. Currently, Somalia faces an insurgency from al-Qaida-linked militants known as al-Shabab.

The administration has also been accused of rampant corruption. Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Somalia the second most corrupt country in its 2015 index.

Despite political and security challenges, Somalia has seen much progress since al-Shabab militants were driven from large parts of southern and central Somalia, allowing businesses to thrive in the capital as many citizens who fled the country to return to invest in the country. But al-Shabab continues to carry out deadly attacks across the country.