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Somalia’s president signs law extending own term for 2 years

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi (Farmajo)

Somalia’s president has signed a contentious law passed by the lower house of the parliament that extends his term for two more years.

“President Mohamed Abdullahi (Farmajo) has tonight signed the direction of ‘one person, one vote’ law, which was unanimously passed by parliament on April 14,” said a statement issued by the East African country’s Information Minister Osman A Dubbe on Tuesday night.

State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu also announced that the president had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by the parliament.”

The country’s lower house of parliament voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — on Monday, after months of impasse over the holding of polls in the terror-ravaged country.

Somalia’s Senate Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi, however, censured the legislation — which was not referred to the upper house for approval prior to enactment — as unconstitutional, saying that it would “lead the country to political instability, risks of insecurity, and other unpredictable situations.”

Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February without a successor. The new head of state was meant to be chosen by a new team of legislators, but their own selection was delayed after opponents accused the president of packing regional and national election boards with his own supporters.

At the time, a coalition of opposition presidential candidates also declared in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace, and unity” of the country. Some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.

The 59-year-old president, a veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived in the US for years, had vowed to rebuild the country and fight corruption.

But observers believe he became entangled in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, impeding the fight against the al-Shabab terrorist group in the country.

The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023, the first such direct poll since 1969, which Somalis have been promised for years but no government has managed to deliver.

Meanwhile, the US, which has positioned itself as the top ally of Mohamed in his purported goal of recovering from decades of civil war and combating al-Qaeda-linked militants, announced on Tuesday that it was “deeply disappointed” with the move to extend the mandate.

“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabaab,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a statement.

He further threatened that the implementation of the bill would compel Washington to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations... and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”

Moreover, the European Union (EU)’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.

Britain’s Minister for Africa James Duddridge also warned of unspecified consequences for Somalia in a Tuesday statement, saying, “In the absence of consensus leading to inclusive and credible elections being held without further delay, the international community’s relationship with Somalia’s leadership will change.”

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

Somalia still operates under an interim constitution, and its institutions, such as the army, remain underdeveloped, backed up with international support.

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