Somalia’s Puntland region braces for presidential election

Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region is gearing up for a presidential election on January 8 and the possible outbreak of violence as regional tensions intensify. Clan elders chose the 65 lawmakers who will elect Puntland’s next leader from a slate of two dozen this week.

Though Puntland has avoided much of the violence roiling southern Somalia, where fighters from the radical Al Shaabab Islamist movement are trying to overthrow the newly re-established central government, the self-governed region — which boasts its own state constitution and security forces while shying away from a formal declaration of independence — is grappling with its own security issues, notably the recent assassinations of dozens of clan elders and religious leaders, and attacks from pirates along its coast. Tensions are high with neighboring Somaliland and Khatumo state; in November, clashes broke out between Puntland and Khatumo forces over territorial claims, displacing thousands.

With January’s vote comes the potential for greater unrest — originally scheduled for July 2013, the ballot was postponed because of the risk for violence — especially if incumbent Abdirahman Mohamed Farole wins. The Puntland president has been accused of widespread graft, irresponsible fiscal policies, and wielding undue influence over the electoral process. (Confusion over a reported December 22 attack on opposition candidate Abdidahir Mohamed Yusuf Yeey by security forces has added to fears of a fixed, or at the least slanted, election.) Resentment is particularly high among the Dhulbahante clan, which accuses the president of favoring certain groups — like his own Majeerteen tribe, which represents 60% of the Puntland population — and established the rival Khatumo state two years ago.

If Farole wins — as is likely — look for these tensions to come to a head, especially if other clans follow Dhulbahante’s example and attempt to create their own autonomous statelets. And any violent outbreak will have broader implications on the rest of Somalia, which is attempting to rebound from two decades of civil war. Puntland was one of few regions with a functioning administration after the collapse of Somalia’s central government in 1991 and has since represented a (relative) bastion of stability, welcoming hundreds of thousands of southern refugees.

Deterioration in the north could threaten Mogadishu’s efforts to restore control and stability to the country following 2012’s successful national election. Worse, it could open a door to extremists fighting to gain a foothold in the region and offer al Shaabab a pan-Somalian network on which to draw. Bad news for the country’s fragile central government, which is struggling to contain the Islamist insurgency. Case in point: Wednesday saw a triple bombing outside of a popular Mogadishu hotel in a supposedly impenetrable neighborhood, which caused at least 11 casualties. Al Shaabab has claimed responsibility — and promised more of the same.

Source:http://blogs.blouinnews.com





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