January 26, 2009 / 7:05 AM / 10 years ago

Somali parliament may delay presidential election

By David Clarke

DJIBOUTI, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Somalia’s parliament is expected to vote on a motion on Monday to delay the election of a president to allow more time for talks on enlarging the assembly, legislators said.

A Western-backed interim government has failed to establish stability in a country where more than 16,000 civilians have been killed in the past two years, Islamist rebels are attacking the capital and the chaos onshore has fuelled rampant piracy.

The international community has been urging feuding Somalis to settle their political differences, expand the parliament to include the moderate Islamist opposition and elect a new president during talks in neighbouring Djibouti this week.

Under the constitutional charter, a new Somali president should be chosen by parliament within 30 days of the resignation of former President Abdullahi Yusuf, who quit on Dec. 29.

"We have put forward a motion which states the time of the elections should be extended," said member of parliament Ahmed Issa Awale, adding there would be a vote on Monday.

Parliamentarians meeting in Djibouti under a U.N.-hosted reconciliation process said they were looking for an extension of seven to 10 days.

Members of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), which is expecting to join a new unity government, said they would like the presidential election to be postponed by a few weeks.

The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali administration will be able to reach out to armed groups who are still fighting the interim government and targeting African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.

The more militant Islamist wing of the ARS, based in Eritrea, has so far refused to take part in the peace process. So have fighters in the hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab, who want to impose their strict version of Islamic law in Somalia.

Both members of parliament and ARS members said it would make more sense to broaden the discussions to include others.

"We are for the reconciliation, but it depends on who we are going to reconcile," said member of parliament Asha Ahmed Abdullah, adding that the aim should be to stop the fighting.

Parliamentarians also said there was debate over how many seats should be given to the ARS if the parliament doubles as expected from 275 members now. At the moment, the ARS is expecting to get 200 members of parliament. (Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan)

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