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Somalia's talks on troubled election fail 2 days before vote

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Saturday, May 25, 2019, file photo, Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed arrives for the swearing-in ceremony of Cyril Ramaphosa at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. As Somalia marks three decades since a dictator fell and chaos engulfed the country, the government is set to hold a troubled national election but two regional states are refusing to take part in the vote to elect Somalia's president and time is running out before the Feb. 8 date on which mandates expire. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

MOGADISHU – A meeting on Somalia’s troubled election has ended in failure as the federal government and regional states could not reach agreement on remaining issues two days before the scheduled vote, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on Saturday blamed unnamed “foreign interventions.”

Lawmakers in parliament booed the president, pounding their desktops, as he addressed them after days of discussions fizzled. He accused Puntland and Jubbaland states of refusing to support an agreement last September on the electoral process.

“I’ve made every effort,” said the president, who seeks a second four-year term. “Don’t make us feel ashamed before the international community, and don’t discourage our people.”

He added: “There’s still some hope that we can move forward, we just need to set another time for a meeting to solve our problems, and all these issues rest on the shoulders of parliament.”

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But the president’s critics accuse him of delaying to extend his current mandate. The September agreement allows for the president and others to stay in office after Monday’s election date if needed, but United Nations special representative James Swan has warned that going beyond that day brings “an unpredictable political situation in a country where we certainly don’t need any more of that.”

The uncertainty is ripe for exploitation by the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group, which has threatened to attack the polls and even launched a documentary series on Friday criticizing the president and the electoral process, which it accused of being riddled with corruption.

Al-Shabab attacked the city hosting the election talks on the night the president arrived and the following night. No one was killed, but security forces on the second night killed four attackers and detained two.

Meanwhile, Somalia is adjusting to the withdrawal of some 700 U.S. military personnel, a process completed in mid-January, and is faces another security jolt as a nearly 20,000-strong African Union force is set to withdraw by the end of the year.

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Information Minister Osman Dubbe told reporters that another meeting on the electoral crisis will be held, “but we’ve made more than our fair share in making concessions to federal member states.”

The Jubbaland leader, Ahmed Madobe, asserted to reporters that the president “spoke to me in a disgusting way ... He keeps accusing us of being supported and manipulated by (neighboring) Kenya.” Somalia late last year broke off diplomatic relations with Kenya, accusing it of meddling. Kenya has denied it.

Madobe also objected to the recent deployment of federal troops to a border community in his region next to Kenya, calling it an attempt to undermine his authority.

“I tried everything I could to solve this crisis in the best logical way together with the rest of the federal member states, but it was always the president who refused,” Madobe said.

Contentious issues in the election talks have been the formation of the electoral management commission, the selection of commission members for the breakaway region of Somaliland and the crisis in the Somalia-Kenya border region of Gedo.

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The federal government and three regional states have appointed their commission members but Puntland and Jubbaland declined, accusing the federal government of selecting its members from non-neutral bodies.

The information minister told reporters that “now we have accepted that the federal member states can tell us who is wrong in the position and we can replace them.”

The chairman of the upper house of parliament, Abdi Hashi, was not invited to this week’s meeting despite being from Somaliland, and he has argued that he, not the president’s people, should select Somaliland’s commission members.

The information minister told reporters that “we allowed (Hashi) to appoint four people to the commission, that’s 40% of the number for Somaliland.”

But the issue of Gedo in Jubbaland remains.

Somalia’s citizens have little say in the crisis. The goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in the Horn of Africa nation remains elusive. It was meant to take place this time, but the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” with senators and members of parliament elected by community leaders — delegates of powerful clans — in each member state.

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Members of parliament and senators then elect the president.