MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia's new parliament is due to vote for a new president of the country's fledgling government, a move that members of the international community say is a key step toward the country's transition from a war-torn failed state to a nation with an effective government.
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.
Augustine Mahiga, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, implored parliamentarians to think of the good of their country and vote with a clear conscience on Monday.
The U.N.-backed process of electing the country's next government has been criticized for corruption and threats of violence.
The International Crisis Group think tank has said the current political process has been as undemocratic as the Transitional Federal Government structure it seeks to replace, "with unprecedented levels of political interference, corruption and intimidation."
The U.S. government urged Somali lawmakers to act with courage, determination, and integrity in conducting a fair and transparent election.
Patrick Ventrell, the acting deputy spokesman for the State department, urged those who lose the election to do so gracefully. Accept the result, and refrain from inciting violence or encouraging others to distance themselves from Somalia's new federal governmental institutions, he said in a statement Friday.
Somalia's intricate clan politics and loyalties must be navigated in the selection of the country's leaders. A clan that wins the post of speaker, for example, is not eligible to get the presidency.
Somali elders were tasked with naming a full parliament, since a general election is impossible because of insecurity.
An incomplete parliament elected former labor minister Mohamed Osman Jawari as the new speaker on August 28.
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, threats and seat-buying schemes delayed progress toward the selection and seating of 275 members of the new Parliament that will select a president
Somalia has seen much progress over the last year. Al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabab militants were forced out of Mogadishu in August 2011, allowing businesses to thrive and the arts and sports to return. Al-Shabab has lost control of Mogadishu and ceded power in towns in western Somalia. The militants have largely either fled to northern Somalia and Yemen, or have retreated to Kismayo , the last major town the militants control.
Last month Somali leaders endorsed a new provisional constitution that expands rights for Somali citizens. The U.N . — which helped broker the constitution and is in charge of the poll — hopes that one day all of Somalia will be able to vote to endorse or reject the constitution.