Somalia votes for new president

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iol pic afr somalia parliament Reuters EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Alexander Rondos (L) speaks alongside Augustine Mahiga, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Somalia and head of the UN Political Office in Somalia, during a news conference in Mogadishu.

Mogadishu, Somalia -

Members of Somalia's new parliament hold a vote to name a new president of the fledgling government on Monday, which marks the end of eight years of rule by a UN-backed leadership structure known as the Transitional Federal Government.

A committee tasked with the selection of the new parliament members released a list of the new 215-member parliament on Sunday. The parliament will eventually have 275 members, but it currently has enough members to hold a vote for president by secret ballot.

Security has been tightened across the capital ahead of the vote with police and military troops patrolling the streets

The UN and other international partners helping the political process said Sunday that Somalia faces an unprecedented opportunity for greater peace and stability.

“The conclusion of the Transition should mark the beginning of more representative government in Somalia,” a statement from international partners, including the US and EU, said. “Whilst Parliament remains a selected rather than elected body, it is essential that it cuts its ties with the past of self-interest and warlordism, and is populated by a new generation of Somali politicians, including the proper representation of Somali women.”

Somalia devolved into anarchy in 1991 and hasn't had a fully functioning government since. But life has improved remarkably in Mogadishu over the last year, and the international community - if not Somalis themselves -hold out hope that the new government will expand its powers and provide services to the country.

African Union and Somalia troops pushed al-Shabab militants out of the capital in August 2011, setting the stage for political progress.

But Somalia still has a long way to go. Many of the candidates for Monday's presidential vote - including current President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and the parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden - already serve in a government that has been hammered by corruption allegations.

Behind-the-scenes political efforts involving bribes and intimidation appear to have marred the selection of the parliament. The UN has warned repeatedly of “spoilers” in the selection of the body.

Though residents can't vote, political campaigns are still in high gear as candidates try to win last-minute political points in hopes of leading this war-scarred Horn of Africa nation. Election posters hang on buildings and from cars.

Some candidates for parliament have been disqualified for having criminal backgrounds by the selection committee.

Earlier this month Somali leaders endorsed a new provisional constitution that expands rights for Somali citizens. The UN - which helped broker the constitution and is in charge of this weekend's political votes -hopes that one day all of Somalia will be able to vote to endorse or reject the constitution.

Even the parliament and presidential vote is a sign of progress. Previous political meetings were held outside Mogadishu or in neighbouring countries because militants then controlled Mogadishu. - Sapa-AP

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