MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia's parliament Tuesday elected former labor minister Mohamed Osman Jawari as the new speaker, a key step toward the election of a president and the country's transition from a failed state to a nation with an effective government.
The process to select Somalia's next government has been criticized for corruption and threats of violence, international observers say. Nonetheless, some praise it as a watershed moment in the Horn of Africa nation's road to peace and stability.
While Somalia has had transitional administrations since 2004, it has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos.
The last day of the eight-year U.N.-backed transitional government was Aug. 20 and the U.N. wanted a new president in place by then. But political bickering, violent threats and seat-buying schemes delayed progress toward the selection and seating of 275 members of the new Parliament that will select a president.
Jawari was elected the speaker of Parliament on Tuesday by just 228 legislators.
A group of Somali elders has been tasked with selecting the full list of 275 parliamentarians, but the election of the speaker went ahead without the complete number.
Jawari was challenged by Ali Khalif Galaydh, who had been Somalia's prime minister in 2000-2001 but led in the first round of voting. Galaydh pulled out in the second round, saying he favored Jawari for the post and Jawari was then declared the winner.
The U.N. special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, called Tuesday's election of a speaker "a moment of progress and optimism" and "an important step on the road to restoring accountable and participatory governance."
He said that some 260 members of Parliament have either been sworn in or are pending imminent ratification, and he urged that the 15 remaining lawmakers be selected and seated quickly so the election of a new president can take place "within 10 days."
Mahiga said the election of deputy speakers of Parliament will take place in the immediate future.
"The new federal Parliament must be allowed to exercise its authority with independence, transparency and free from undue influence and coercion," he said in a statement.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the final months of the transitional government were "fraught with setbacks" but also characterized by formidable Somali and international efforts to establish "a more legitimate and representative government with new leadership and representative government with new leadership and institutions."
He said the election of the speaker, deputy speakers and a president "will offer Somalia a leadership with a new mandate to continue working on the peace process and the reconstruction of the country."
But Ban predicted "a rough and unpredictable road ahead" and expressed serious concern at reports of "corrupt practices and intimidation by those seeking to influence the political process."
The secretary-general warned that "establishing and maintaining stability and security in Somalia will not be easy."
"Many spoilers fear that an orderly society with established institutions of governance and rule of law will compromise their ill-gained privileges," he said.
Ban urged Somalis "to rise up to the challenge and, jointly with their leaders, start building a peaceful and prosperous country."
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations