Upper house

Jihadists threaten as Somalia elections approach

Somali al-Shabaab jihadists have warned politicians against participating in the elections due to start this month after months of deadlock and delays.

The threat, in an audio message purportedly recorded by Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, underscores the security challenges facing the electoral process in this deeply volatile country in the Horn of Africa.

Indirect parliamentary and presidential polls are due to open on July 25 with four days of voting for the upper house by state delegates.

“We are sending (…) a warning to (voting) delegations,” Ubaidah said in a rare message posted Monday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that was posted on pro-Shabaab websites.

“Don’t be fooled by empty promises … including the provision of money and the promise that the vote will be secret.

“Learn from those who came before you,” he said, apparently referring to traditional elders who participated in the last elections in 2016, some of whom were targeted and murdered by Al-Shabaab fighters in in the years that followed.

It is not known where Ubaidah is located and it is not known when the message was recorded. AFP could not independently confirm the identity of the voice.

The al-Qaeda-linked group has been fighting to topple the federal government since 2007 and frequently attacks government, security and civilian targets.

Somali political leaders finally agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of deadlock that at times turned violent.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the leaders of the five Somali states had failed to agree on the terms of a vote before his term expired in February, triggering an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

The political stalemate escalated into violence in April when negotiations broke down and the lower house extended the president’s term by two years, sparking shootings in the streets of Mogadishu.

Under pressure, the president, commonly known as Farmajo, canceled the extension and ordered his prime minister to meet again with heads of state to chart a new roadmap towards the elections.

The ballots follow a complex indirect pattern where special delegates chosen by the myriad elders of the country’s clans choose lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

Successive leaders have promised a direct vote, but internal political struggles, logistical problems and the Al-Shabaab insurgency have prevented such an exercise.

The upper house vote will be followed by lower house elections from September 12 to October 2, according to an updated schedule released last week.

According to a statement released in June, the two assemblies were scheduled to meet to vote for the president on October 10, but no date for that election was given in the updated schedule.

Somalia has not staged a direct one-person-one-vote election since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre staged a coup and ruled for two decades.

Barre’s military regime collapsed in 1991 and Somalia sank into anarchy.

str-txw / ri

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