MOGADISHU - Members of parliament overwhelmingly elected political newcomer Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president of Somalia on Monday, a result hailed by supporters as a vote for change in the war-ravaged country.
Bursts of celebratory gunfire crackled through the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, after the first vote of its kind in decades in Somalia drew to a close. Mohamud won in a secret ballot with 190 votes, against 79 lawmakers voting for incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. ‘I congratulate all Somalis. The people are taking a new direction. You are now ending the difficult path and taking a new one,’ Mohamud said to a cheering crowd of well-wishers. Although Mohamud is a relatively new face in Somali politics, the one-time academic will be confronted by old problems: acrimonious clan politics, rampant corruption, maritime piracy and a stubborn Islamist insurgency.
Mohamud, seen as a moderate, unexpectedly defeated Ahmed after two of the four candidates who made it to the second round of voting dropped out. One of them, outgoing Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who threw his weight behind Mohamud, said the result heralded a new era for Somali politics. ‘Somalia voted for change,’ Ali told Reuters, adding it was too early to say whether he would take part in the next administration. Somalia has lacked an effective central government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991. The capital, however, which until last year witnessed street battles between al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants and African soldiers, is now a vibrant city where reconstructed houses are slowly replacing bullet-riddled structures. Monday’s vote was seen as a culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed roadmap to end that conflict, during which tens of thousands of people were killed and many more fled. Despite being on the back foot, the militants still control swathes of southern and central Somalia, while pirates, regional administrations and local militia group also vie for control of chunks of the mostly lawless Horn of Africa country. - Nampa/Reuters