The United Nations envoy for Somalia called on leaders in Somalia to reach an agreement on holding elections “as soon as possible”, in comments made days after gunfire broke out during an opposition demonstration in the capital, Mogadishu.
In a quarterly video conference of the UN Security Council, James Swan on Monday urged “all of Somalia’s political leaders to pull back from confrontation and avoid risky winner-take-all tactics”.
“Instead, this is a time to pursue dialogue and compromise to reach an inclusive and credible political agreement to hold elections as soon as possible based on the 17 September model,” he added.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – better known by his nickname Farmaajo – and regional leaders had reached an agreement on September 17 that abandoned a promised one-person, one-vote ballot but offered a common path forward for elections.
But they have since been unable to resolve difference over how the polls are to be conducted.
The country missed a deadline to hold an election by February 8, when Farmaajo was due to step down. Amid the constitutional crisis, a coalition of opposition candidates had said it no longer recognises Farmaajo as president and has pledged mass protests until he steps down.
“I remain convinced that the consensus-based 17 September model offers the best available option to proceed quickly to an electoral process for selection of members of parliament, senators and the president,” Swan said.
“The message from partners has been clear that there should be no partial elections, no parallel processes and no unilateral actions by Somali leaders. Such approaches would only lead to greater division and risk of confrontation,” the UN envoy warned.
On Friday, a small group of protesters attempted to march down the main airport road in Mogadishu when shots rang out, sending them ducking for cover. It was unclear who opened fire first.
The violence has subsided since, but the months-old political tensions have not eased, said Francisco Madeira, head of the African Union’s Somalia mission.
He called for “restraint from acts that can escalate tension and lead to further violence.”
Madeira stressed elections are “an absolute necessity” to renew and reaffirm “peoples’ trust and confidence in their leaders.” Somalia’s leaders should return to the negotiating table “guided by constructiveness, compromise and consensus”, he said.
Rita Laranjinha, managing director of the European Union’s External Action Service, warned the failure to reach agreement on how to conduct elections “is a risk for Somalia, and if not addressed urgently will become a risk to regional security”.
“If Somalia’s leaders fail to come to political arrangements, al-Shabab and other spoilers will benefit” and “the gains made to move Somalia to debt relief also risk being squandered”, said Laranjinha.
“Time is therefore now for us, together, to reinforce our commitment towards a more comprehensive political and stabilization approach,” she said.
In Somalia, where the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab armed group remains active, the fragile federal government controls only part of the territory, despite the support of the African Union force, largely funded by the European Union.
The mandate of this force expires on February 28 and is expected to be renewed this weekend by the UN Security Council.
Acting US Ambassador Richard Mills, who also called for elections to be held, said on Monday the United States was joining Somalia in calling for some al-Shabab leaders to be placed on a UN sanctions list.
“Today we joined with the federal government of Somalia in co-nominating three senior Al-Shabab leaders, Abukar Ali Adan, Maalim Ayman and Mahad Karate, to the 751 Somalia sanctions list,” he said.
These sanctions include the possibility of asset freezes and travel bans.
“These designations demonstrate that the international community will hold accountable those who undermine Somalia peace, security and stability,” Mills said.