Somalia Regional Lawmakers Re-elect Incumbent as Leader Amid Tensions

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Lawmakers in Somalia’s regional state of Jubbaland have re-elected incumbent Ahmed Mohamed Islam as the leader in a controversial election held in the southern port town of Kismayo, the region’s largest.

Popularly known as Madobe, the former Islamist leader secured 56 of 73 votes in a first round Thursday, defeating three other candidates. His closest challenger, Anab Mohamed Darir, received 17 votes. Madobe was immediately sworn into office for the next four years.

“Although I have got a small number in votes, I consider it as a success because this could encourage women to run for elections and show that they want their representation in the country’s man-dominated politics,” Darir told VOA Somali. She was the only woman to run for the office.

Madobe campaigned on a pledge to promote regional economic growth and fight al-Shabab militants who still control a large portion of the region. He is also a top security partner with Kenya, which helps Somalia fight al-Shabab and has a strong presence in Kismayo.

Those opposing Madobe’s rule formed a separate electoral commission and elected a rival parliament and president, Abdirashib Hidig, on Thursday. Their move has raised fears of violence and a lack of stability in a region already suffering from attacks and the heavy presence of al-Shabab.

A member of parliament of Somaliaís Jubaland state casts her vote during the presidential election held in Kismayo, on Aug. 22, 2019.

Prior to the regional vote, Somalia’s federal government said it would not recognize the results of elections that came through what it described as an “illegal process.”

“The government will not recognize any election marred by lack of transparency,” Somalia’s interior minister, Abdi Mohamed Sabriye, told VOA Somali. But there was no immediate reaction from the government to Thursday’s election result. 

Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Shakul, who recently gave up his candidacy, was disappointed with the result.

“It was unfortunate that Jubbaland has two parliaments and two presidents each claiming legitimacy.” Shakul said.

Outside interference 

The process in which Madobe was re-elected Thursday was marred by threats, intimidation, violence and accusations of outside interference. It also sparked tensions with neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

In the days prior to the vote, senior Ethiopian officials traveled to Kismayo to try to persuade Madobe to hold a free and fair election with the support of the federal government of Somalia. 

The visit came as the United Nations political office in Somalia called on authorities to address concerns about the election process.

In response, Kenya called on the U.N. office to withdraw its statement. 

Like Kenya, Ethiopia has a large peacekeeping contingent in Somalia. 

Jubbaland forces stand with their ammunitions as they prepare for a security patrol against Islamist al Shabaab militants in Bulagaduud town, north of Kismayo, Somalia, Aug. 17, 2015.

Kenya has been supporting Madobe because it sees the Kismayo region as a buffer zone against Islamist attacks inside Kenya. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is close to the federal government in Mogadishu, which is not happy with Madobe’s return.

In his first briefing to the world body since taking office, James Swan, head of the U.N. mission in Somalia (UNSOM), told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that despite “encouraging” developments in Somalia, insecurity remains a serious issue.

Swan’s more immediate concern was the regional election in Jubbaland.

“We continue to urge a single, agreed, consensual electoral process, without which there is an increased risk of instability if there is a contested outcome,” Swan said.

He also said such a controversial election could not only put progress made in Jubbaland in jeopardy, but also potentially undermine national priorities, including preparations for national elections in 2020, the fight against al-Shabab and the country’s development agenda.

In Somalia’s clan-based power-sharing politics, analysts predict such political rifts and contested outcomes could push some communities, mainly minority groups, to join al-Shabab.

Somalia has a history of clan rivalries and unstable governments, dating to the country’s independence in 1960. 

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