Somali opposition groups suffer a major blow, as int’l community rebuffs call for interim government and instead urges talks to resolve election dispute

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MOGADISHU – Somali opposition groups’ obsession with the Feb. 8th, the date when the term of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” was expected to expire, began months ago.

They desperately counted the months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and, even, seconds left before they could chuck the man they hated the most out of office.

They threatened. They stymied attempts to resolve disputes on when and how to conduct elections. They issued back-to-back statements, warning of doom and gloom. They said their recognition of the president would end the second the clock hits midnight of Feb. 7th.

Their impatience increased after a summit between the president and regional chiefs failed last Friday to produce a conclusive agreement on when and how to organize the nation’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

As the D-day neared without any consensus among the nation’s politicians to avert a showdown, a sense of euphoria washed over the anti-Farmajo camp.

The Council of Presidential Candidates – a grouping of two former presidents, a former prime minister and others politicians – called for the establishment of a Transitional National Council to run the country when President Farmajo’s term actually runs out. It also demanded that the would-be executive council be composed of the speakers of the two houses of parliament, regional chiefs and representatives from the Council of Presidential Candidates and the civil society.

Then, the clock struck midnight of Feb. 7th and – boom — President Farmajo stayed put at his office in the Blue House, and – lo and behold – Somalia’s international partners issued a real buzzkill: A firm statement smashing opposition groups’ dreams and hope of seeing the end of Farmajo to smithereens.

After all, President Farmajo, the man the opposition liked to vilify and caricature for years, will be around for some time. The nation’s capital, Mogadishu, was calm on Monday and its residents went about their business without any major security concern.

The world – the US, the UN, the European Union, the African Mission in Somalia, the League of Arab States, the regional bloc IGAD, Russia, France, the UK and 15 other individual nations – reaffirmed their recognition of Farmajo as the legitimate president of Somalia.

Somalis have swiftly started to mock the opposition groups, which were not indeed amused, as an overrated grouping out of touch with the nation’s reality.

“It was all bluster and empty threats,” Lawmaker Mohamud Ahmed Isse told The Somalia Star in a phone interview. “ What the public wants is bigger than what the opposition groups want. The public wants a smooth transition to a new government, not a chaos or a caretaker government.”

He said the problem with Somali opposition groups is, “they don’t have a strong support base.”

“The public don’t trust them,” said Isse, who’s nicknamed Truth-teller. “The public doesn’t want to return to the past. The international community, too, doesn’t want a return to the helter-skelter manner in which past governments were overthrown.”

In their statement, Somalia’s international partners urged — as if no deadline was blown — the resumption of the recently failed talks in Samareeb to “reach final agreement permitting national elections to take place as soon as possible.”

“We strongly support further dialogue in a calm and constructive spirit,” the partners said. “We once again underscore that any alternative outcomes, including a parallel process or partial elections, or any other actions that lack broad agreement, would not obtain the support of partners.”

The U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, in a separate statement, said the “political gridlock” over elections has impeded the war against the militant group of al-Shabab and efforts at improving Somalia’s security and advancing its economic development.

“It the responsibility and the duty of national and regional leaders to put aside the search for political advantage and instead act in the interests of the people of Somalia, who deserve the best from their leaders,” said the U.S. Embassy. “Now is the time to resolve outstanding issues and finish the job of holding elections.”

As expected, the opposition groups’ initial thrills have given way to chills and indignation and they started to attack the international community for allowing President Farmajo to stay in power, even though the man is legally in office thanks to a bill passed last September by the two houses of parliament and signed into law by the president that allows an incumbent to remain in office until a successor is elected and sworn in.

The leader of Wadajir Party Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, won’t hear of Farmajo remaining in office.

“President Farmajo’s term of office has ended,” he tweeted. “Anyone who justifies for him to continue staying in power will be partly responsible for the country’s instability & collapse. We call on outgoing President to abide by the constitution to avoid losing the rights of a former president.”

President Farmajo’s office has not issued any statement on Monday. In one of his two tweets on Sunday, he wrote that “the interest of our Nation and our people remains my utmost priority.”

It’s far from clear what will happen in the coming days. But if the past is any guide, it’s likely that the international community will exert some pressure on President Farmajo and opposition groups and regional chief administrators to sit down and hammer out a deal on when and how to manage parliamentary and presidential elections.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble is expected to brief lawmakers this week about what he had achieved in his first 100 days in office. A booklet detailing those achievements were distributed to the lawmakers on Monday. He’s also expected to ask for a reasonable extension in which his government could carry out the elections, a reality that appears to have been grudgingly accepted by opposition groups.

In a press conference in Mogadishu on Monday, former President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a member of the Council of Presidential Candidates, acknowledged that since the mandate of the Executive and the Legislature had expired there would be some sort of a term extension going forward.

“But, there is a need to expound the extent of the extension and what will be done during that period,” he said, warning about ambiguity and illegality.

European Union’s Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell also favors a technical extension, saying the current tense state of affairs is not “in the interest of the citizens of Somalia.”

But he warned against any “parallel or partial process or an extension of the current mandate of the institutions, which is not technical in nature.”

The Somali government, regional chief administrators and political parties have for months been locked in a stalemate over how and when to organize the nation’s parliamentary and presidential elections despite a Sept. 17 agreement that outlined the time and the mode of the elections. The electoral process was to begin on Nov. 1., but that deadline was missed after new disagreements between President Farmajo and the nation’s five regional chiefs popped up.

New talks last week on the three main sticking points have snagged on the dispute over the management of the elections in Gedo and in the northwestern regions, although the leaders made some headway in another thorny issue, the political parties’ rejection of the government-appointed members of the electoral commission.

“We call on Somalia’s political leaders to build on the positive aspects of the Dhusamareb discussions, and

continue to work together to agree implementation of elections in the national interest,” said the international partners in their statement.

The African Union chairman, Moussa Faki, urged “all Somali stakeholders to put national interest first and constructively seek solution to their differences through dialogue and compromise.”

The initial mandates of parliament and the presidency ended on Dec. 27, 2020 and Feb. 8, 2021 respectively. Therefore, the lack of clarity on what to do in the coming weeks and months has raised new tension between the political parties and regional administrators on one hand and the executive and legislative branches on the other hand.

“Quickly resolving the current electoral impasse is critical to Somalia’s future,” said the US Embassy.

The UK Ambassador to Somalia Ben Fender agreed.

“My view: an election soonest,” he tweeted, on the basis of the Sept. 17 agreement between the government and regional leaders because that is “the only realistic way forward” that could minimize risks and uncertainty in the country.

All “*must* avoid unilateral acts,” he tweeted.