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Somalia: parliament picks new speaker amid security standoff

The Somalian flag, 27 September 2016 [Flickr/AMISOM Public Information]

Somalia's lawmakers elected a new parliamentary speaker on Thursday following a tense standoff between African Union peacekeepers and police, Reuters has reported. The situation underscores bitter divisions within Somalia's security forces exacerbated by delayed elections.

On Wednesday, police loyal to President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, usually known by his nickname Farmaajo, turned away MPs attempting to enter the airport hangar where the vote for speaker was taking place, telling them that it had been postponed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, who has been locked in a power-struggle with Farmaajo for many months, had instructed peacekeepers to secure the venue to allow parliamentarians to have access. This led to the confrontations at the gates witnessed by Reuters.

Eventually, in the early hours of Thursday, lawmakers elected Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur as the speaker of the lower house. Nur is a veteran opposition figure who analysts see as a pragmatic and moderate counterpoint to the president. Both Farmaajo and Roble took to Twitter to congratulate Nur, who beat his nearest rival by 98 votes to 74.

READ: Somalia PM asks peacekeepers to secure parliamentary speaker vote

The election of speakers in the parliament and senate is a key step in establishing the new government, which must be in place by 17 May if Somalia is to continue receiving budget support from the International Monetary Fund. Abdi Hashi, a long-serving senator and critic of the president, was re-elected as speaker of the upper house on Tuesday.

Somalia's long-delayed election process has been beset by Islamist violence and feuding within the country's leadership. This split the security forces so badly last year that rival factions of the army fought street battles in the capital. The elections had been scheduled for a year ago but were delayed when Farmaajo tried to extend his four-year term by two years, a move thwarted by parliament.

"The country's political party system is in its infancy," explained Rashid Abdi, chief analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think-tank. "This doesn't necessarily mean that the opposition will carry the day but they now control both houses of parliament. The chance of Farmaajo becoming the next president is becoming slimmer."

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