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Somalia ready for president vote

Somali President President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (file image from 1 August 2012)Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been president since 2009

Somalia’s new parliament is preparing to hold a vote to name a president for the country.

The vote will mark the end of a period of eight years of rule by the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, whose mandate expires.

Security is reported to be heavy across the capital, Mogadishu, with troops and police officers patrolling the streets.

Outgoing President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in power since 2009, is seen as a favourite for the role.

Other candidates include Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden.

Mr Ahmed is a controversial figure for Western observers.

‘Favours and intimidation’

A recent UN report suggested that under his presidency there had been widespread corruption.

“Systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems,” the July report said.

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In August, the UN special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said “favours, bribes and intimidation” had been involved during the appointment of the country’s MPs.

The new parliament, to be made up of a lower house with 275 members and an upper house with a maximum of 54 members, will hold its first session on Monday for the vote.

It currently has 215 members, enough to vote for a president by secret ballot.

The new MPs were chosen by a technical selection committee.

‘Critical moment’

On Sunday, representatives from the international community flew into Mogadishu for final talks with Mr Ahmed and to resolve a problem over the issuing of identity cards for MPs.

The president had halted the identity cards after the selection committee rejected some proposed members of his clan.

Monday’s vote was welcomed by the international community.

“The conclusion of the transition should mark the beginning of more representative government in Somalia,” said a statement released by the UN.

“Whilst parliament remains a selected rather than elected body, it is essential that it cuts its ties with the past of self-interest and warlordism, and is populated by a new generation of Somali politicians, including the proper representation of Somali women.”

The BBC World Service’s Africa Editor, Martin Plaut, says that this is a critical moment for the country which, since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, has seen warlords, Islamic fundamentalists and its neighbours all taking a hand in its affairs.

With the help of African Union peacekeepers, the interim government controls the capital but al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, runs many central and southern areas of the country.

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