(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Controversy over extension of Puntland administration's mandate

Controversy is brewing over attempts to extend the mandate of the administration of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia, according to a local journalist based in Bosaso, the region's commercial capital.

On 17 February, the Puntland House of Representatives approved an extension of the mandate of the region’s administration by two years, Muhammad Sa'id Kashawito of Midnimo radio told IRIN on Wednesday. "Thirty-nine members voted in favour of the extension, six voted against, and four abstained," he said. Forty-nine of the 66 members of the house were present, and the motion only needed a simple majority to be adopted, he added.

The controversy had served to place Col Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad, the Puntland leader, and Muhammad Abdi Hashi, his deputy, on opposite sides, the Puntland fisheries minister, Abdirazzaq Ali Shadon, told IRIN. "The president [sic] is against any extension, while the vice-president is in favour," he said. "He [Abdullahi] has sent a letter to parliament requesting it to withdraw the extension."

Shadon said that he was in favour of holding elections in April, when the life of the sitting Puntland parliament ends. "We have to keep faith with our people and hold elections," he insisted.

Kashawito said those advocating the extension were arguing that due the prevailing drought, lack of financial resources and tensions with the neighbouring self-declared republic of Somaliland over the disputed regions of Sool and Sanag, "holding elections would be impossible at this time".

There were also fears that with the Somali peace talks still under way in Kenya, elections would not be held "and a dangerous power vacuum will be created if the mandate is not extended", Kashawito added.

However, Awad Ashara, the Puntland justice minister, told IRIN that "there is a power struggle going on between the two sides", which in turn had created "a constitutional crisis". He said there was a need for intervention by the constitutional court. "The court must clarify whether parliament is right and whether the president [Abdullahi Yusuf], who is outside the country, has the constitutional right to intervene."

Abdullahi Yusuf is in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, attending the peace talks, and in his absence Muhammad Abide Hashi, is acting in his place.

Kashawito told IRIN that the parliament is debating the issue again, and that those supporting the motion "have overwhelming majority and will most likely approve the extension again".

Puntland declared itself autonomous in 1998, following a conference of local elders. Abdullahi Yusuf was then elected as the region's first "president" for a three-year term.

The last time that there was a controversy over an extension of mandate, the region was plunged into a civil war. The problem started after Abdullahi, whose term of office ended on 30 June 2001, claimed that his mandate had been extended by parliament.

Puntland traditional elders opposed to him met in Garowe in July, rejected his claim to an extended mandate and named Yusuf Haji Nur, Puntland's then chief justice, as "acting president" pending the election of a new administration.

The elders subsequently convened a general congress in August 2001 and, on 14 November, elected Jama Ali Jama for a three-year term in the hope that this would end the leadership wrangles. In May 2002 Abdullahi Yusuf forcibly recaptured power in Puntland.

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