Mogadishu: Two rival candidates both claimed victory Thursday in a tense and closely-watched regional election in southern Somalia that the federal government in Mogadishu had vowed not to recognise.
The hard-fought election in Jubaland, a semi-autonomous state bordering Kenya, had been postponed several times as a result of what observers say is a power struggle between Mogadishu, the regional government and their foreign backers.
Jubaland authorities had accused the federal government of trying to expand their power by ousting the incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, and installing a loyalist in his place.
Tensions over the poll threatened to spill over, with Kenya backing its ally Madobe while Ethiopia was siding with Mogadishu in trying to remove him, Somalia analysts said.
But Madobe, a former warlord, prevailed with 56 of Jubaland’s 74 MPs casting ballots to “ensure him the presidency for the next four years”, the state’s speaker of parliament said Thursday.
“We are ready to sit with anyone with complaints including the opposition, I’m ready to forgive anyone with grievances,” Madobe said after the result was announced.
Ahead of the election, Mogadishu said it would not recognise the outcome of the poll.
The federal government is yet to comment on the outcome.
Jubaland authorities in the regional capital Kismayo had meanwhile shut the airport and closed the state’s borders until August 23.
But Madobe’s rivals in opposition held a parallel vote Thursday, declaring their candidate Abdirashid Hidig, a renowned politician and member of federal parliament, the true winner.
“I promise that we will work hand in hand to take Jubaland to the next level of freedom,” Hidig told supporters.
“We are part of the Somali member states, and we need the federal government to support us… This administration will not remain isolated in one town and or one location. It will be an administration for all Jubaland people.”
Ahead of the vote, UN special envoy to Somalia, James Swan, urged “all stakeholders to show restraint, refrain from violence, and resolve grievances through dialogue” no matter what the result.
Madobe, with the help of Kenyan troops, pushed Al-Shabaab Islamists out of their former stronghold in Kismayo in 2012.
Kenya sees Jubaland, where it has many troops, as a buffer between it and Al-Shabaab militants who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.
Ethiopia meanwhile also has troops there, and played a key role in the formation of the state, but has grown closer to Mogadishu since the election of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.