Somalia: Parliament Approves Mohamed as PM

Yesterday Somalia’s parliament approved Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the country’s new prime minister. The vote followed a dispute between President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden over whether lawmakers should cast ballots openly (Sheikh Ahmed’s view) or secretly (Sheikh Aden’s). This weekend the two leaders agreed to hold an open vote, an apparent victory for the president. As Reuters says, the procedural issue merely reflected a larger power struggle between factions inside the government (as well as a proxy fight for influence between domestic and Ethiopian elements?), and likely the contest will continue.

Reuters also says that the parliament voted “overwhelmingly” for Mohamed, but that’s debatable: he scored 297 votes out of 392 members present. If around one-quarter of lawmakers were willing to reject him in an open format, how many more would have done so in a secret vote? Support for or opposition to Mohamed does not necessarily correspond to allegiance to either Sheikh Ahmed or Sheikh Aden, but as I’ve said before, Mohamed enters his new position already undermined by the fact that large factions of the government opposed his appointment, and by the spectacle of a government that lost valuable time wrangling over how to fill a key post.

The New York Times reports on what lies ahead for Mohamed and Somalia:

“We will move with full speed to do the people’s business,” Mr. Mohamed said Sunday. “I will very soon form an effective and dedicated cabinet that will put the Somali people first.”

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who nominated Mr. Mohamed for the post last month, called the action a vote “for change and renewal.”

“This is a great day for Somalia,” he said, and he called on Somalis and the international community “to cooperate and collaborate with the new prime minister and his team.”

[…]

Mogadishu residents have largely welcomed Mr. Mohamed, hopeful that he will be able to lead the country out of a morass.

Mohamed is starting off in a reformer role, assembling a smaller cabinet than that of his predecessor. Once that is finished, and now that the internal government conflicts about his appointment are officially over (though likely maneuvering will continue behind the scenes, for and against him), it will be interesting to see what he does next to deal with the conflicts in Somalia as a whole.

Somalia Parliament Controversy

Will controversy in the Somali parliament, coming at a time of serious violence in the capital, further undermine the Transitional Federal Government? First, a look at the dispute among lawmakers:

Speaker Sheikh Aden Madobe said he had called on the country’s president to form a new government. A member of the parliament secretariat who did not want to be identified confirmed the vote’s outcome.

“280 voted against the government, 30 in favour and eight remained silent. Therefore we will request President Sheikh Sharif to form a government urgently,” Madobe told Reuters by telephone.

But events remained unclear, as some parliamentarians contradicted the speaker and said the vote never took place, and they would in fact be voting shortly on Madobe’s own position.

“We did not give him the opportunity to hold the vote of no confidence. Every MP was shouting at him, telling him ‘you are not the speaker’,” lawmaker Sheikh Ahmed Yusuf told Reuters.

Some analysts said the no confidence vote, if real, was unlikely to be taken seriously by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed whose administration is fighting a war against Islamic militants and exerts very little central power.

Parliamentary business has been paralysed this year, with many legislators living in Kenya, Europe and America because of security fears. The chamber has also been split by a bitter feud over the term of the chamber’s speaker and his competence.

At least one observer argues the confusion in parliament plays to Islamist rebels’ advantage:

The escalating political struggle in Somalia will embolden hard-line Islamic insurgents, including al-Shabab, to launch fresh attacks to overthrow President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s government, said political analyst Ali Abdullahi.

He described the ongoing Somali political power struggle as a constitutional crisis that needs immediate resolution.

[…]

Abdullahi said the “untouched” Somali national charter is to blame for the power struggle.

“The charter has not been refined at all, (and) the charter is vague on a number of issues. Right now, who has the power to convene parliament? It is the speaker of parliament. And, what he has done was to call his troops who are the parliamentarians and he has said, ‘Gentlemen, what is the agenda on the table?’ And, the agenda on the table was how efficient has the government been and they voted it (government) out, and the prime minister is out,” Abdullahi said.

He also said deep rifts exist between President Ahmed and Prime Minister Sharmarke, as well as deposed speaker of parliament Madobe.

Some accounts, including (as you can see) this one, are saying that Speaker Madobe’s opponents have already removed him.

As if to demonstrate how directly parliamentary discord can embolden Islamists, rebels launched mortars at the parliament while it was in session.

This moment will likely not decide much in Somalia’s politics, but it does show two things: that the TFG faces internal as well as external problems, and that Islamists are ready to capitalize on those problems. That combination contributes to the difficulties the TFG will encounter in trying to oust al Shabab from Mogadishu and suggests, bluntly, that the TFG could do itself in before outsiders do.