January 08, 2014

Somalia’s Puntland to Elect New President in Parliamentary Vote

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Lawmakers in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region are set to vote in a new president to lead a region seeking greater authority to develop its potential oil resources and flush out Islamist militants.

At least 17 candidates are runningfor the positions of president and deputy, according to a statement on the website of the Garowe-based government office.
Members of parliament, chosen by clan elders last month, will select the leaders today.

Puntland, which declared autonomy in 1988, severed ties with the government in Somalia in August after accusing it of failing to distribute power and share resources including foreign aid with the region.

The current president, Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud, led a process to adopt a new constitution in April 2012 and spearheaded a strategy to enlist youth groups and local communities to combat al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The region has since faced attacks by the al-Shabaab group, including a suicide car bombin gat a market in the port city of Bossaso last month that killed seven people and injured 37 others.

The election may " exacerb ateclan tensions and polarize the population" because the political and judicial institutions overseeing the vote are weak, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said
in a Dec. 19 report. "If the election of the president by parliament next month is disputed, tensions could easily escalate to violence," according to the report.

Oil Resources

Puntland is home to the Dharoor oil block, where Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corp. (AOI)in 2012 carried out the first drilling in the region in at least 20 years. Exploration at two wells failed to find commercial crude and the company plans to conduct seismic studies and drilla well in the Dharoor and Nugaal blocks by October 2015, according to its website.The region of about 3.4 million people in Somalia's northeast relies on livestock trading for about 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. Illegal fishing in Puntland's waters along the 1,300-kilometer (808-mile) coastline, where piracy is also rampant, has cost the economy, the government said.

Puntland's 66-member parliament was sworn in on Jan. 1 and Said Hassan Shire was chosen as speaker, Garowe Online reported on Jan. 5. Election observers for today's vote may include the United Nations envoy for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, according to the Puntland government.

"I remain hopeful that all candidates are committed to a peaceful and credible election," Kay said in an e-mailed statement on Dec. 24.

Sarah McGregor
Nairobi
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Author: verified_user