Islamist leader wins Somali presidency

Somalia’s moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed won the presidency on Saturday and vowed to end conflict in the Horn of Africa nation, make peace with neighbours and rule with honesty and justice.

Legislators applauded, and Ahmed smiled and raised his arms aloft, after winning the election at about 4am local time (1am GMT) in a run-off vote during an all-night Parliament session.

Analysts say Ahmed has a real chance of reuniting Somalis, given his Islamist roots and the backing of parliament. But reconciling the country’s 10-million people and stopping 18 years of bloodshed remain a daunting task even for him.

Ahmed headed the sharia courts movement that brought some stability to Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006, before Ethiopian troops invaded and ousted them from power.

“The conflict in Somalia will be resolved. We are urging our brothers in armed conflict to join us in peace-building,” he told Parliament. “We will govern the Somali people with honesty and justice, and give them back their rights.”

After being sworn in at a hotel in Djibouti on Saturday morning, the Islamist will fly to the very country that chased him from Somalia to attend an African leaders summit. He then returns to Somalia to try and put together a unity government.

Legislators met in neighbouring Djibouti due to the instability at home. But they hope they have elected a man able to isolate or even possibly bring on board hardline insurgents, even if there is a risk the violence spikes in the short term.

Despite the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops earlier this week, and the Djibouti peace process intended to reconcile the government and opposition, hardline Islamist insurgents led by al-Shabaab have vowed to fight on.

Al Shabaab, which is on Washington’s list of foreign terrorist groups, said just before the vote that it would start a new campaign of hit-and-run attacks on the government—whoever came to power.

The group’s spokesperson, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Mansoor, urged jihadists to make ready in comments after prayers in Baidoa, the former seat of Parliament that al-Shabaab overran this week.

Misinterpretation of Islam
Ahmed said those fighting to impose a strict version of Islamic law throughout the country had misinterpreted the religion and he would try to correct that.

He also said his government would not tolerate any abuse of power or corruption and treat neighbours with respect.

United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, hailed Saturday’s vote and called for a spirit of reconciliation.

“I hope and I am sure that the international community will lend its cooperation to the new authorities, provided they demonstrate their determination to promote a stable and tolerant Somalia,” he said after the election.

In the past two years, more than 16 000 civilians and an unknown number of combatants have died during an Islamist-led insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian allies.

One million people have been driven from their homes, and a third of the population relies on food aid in what aid agencies call one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who had been viewed as Ahmed’s main rival for the presidency, pulled out of the race after coming third with just 59 votes in the first round.

Maslah Mohamed Siad, son of ex-dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, went into the run-off but lost by a resounding 293 votes to 126.

Under Somalia’s complicated clan system, Ahmed, a Hawiye, will now seek to appoint a Darod prime minister to ensure representation of the major groups.

Many Somalis doubted that the Djibouti peace process would bring peace, saying whoever was elected president would still face a major armed threat from hardliners, and that an election abroad would lack legitimacy. - Reuters

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