14,000 people to elect next Somali parliament this year

Somalia's president said Tuesday a new electoral process for the Horn of Africa nation will be far more democratic this year when an electoral college of thousands elects members of parliament — compared to just 135 elders who selected the current members in 2012.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told the U.N. Security Council that this year's electoral process will take the country, which is grappling with violent extremists, "one step closer to universal suffrage," and planning is already under way for one-person, one-vote elections by 2020.

Mohamud said this year's electoral process will see a choice of candidates, voting not just in the capital Mogadishu but across Somalia, a dispute resolution process, and 30 percent of seats reserved for women. The process includes an electoral college of nearly 14,000 people.

Somalia has been trying to rebuild after establishing its first functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos. Al-Shabab rebels were ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 and have been pushed out of other key cities but they are not yet defeated, and the government remains weak.

While almost 80 percent of the country has been liberated from Al-Shabab, the president said "terrorism and violent extremism" still pose a threat.

"We cannot and will not quit before it is successfully completed," Mohamud said. "Further resources and commitment are needed now more than ever to chop off the head of the venomous snake of terror once and for all."

He urged greater support for building up the country's military, saying the lifting of the U.N. arms embargo on weapons for government troops would make "the most rapid and greatest impact to the development of Somalia's own forces."

Michael Keating, the U.N. envoy for Somalia, told the council that "the breakthrough on the electoral process is generating broader momentum," pointing to a review of the provisional constitution and a discussion scheduled next month on "politically contentious issues."

Keating cautioned, however, that progress is taking place "amid great insecurity," calling Al-Shabab "a potent threat."

Although the rebel group, which has ties to al-Qaida, has faced significant casualties, he said it continues to carry out attacks and warned that it "will try to disrupt an electoral process that they see rightly as threatening their agenda."