MOGADISHU – The controversial two-year term extension for Somalia’s president evaporated Saturday after intense public pressure, as the lower house of parliament approved his request to instead support efforts to organize the country’s long-delayed national election.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed asked the lawmakers to retreat from their decision last month to extend his time in office. The extension had been blasted by the Senate as illegal and opposed by soldiers who took up key positions in the capital and clashed with other security forces.
The extraordinary scene of soldiers firing at each other in the streets of Mogadishu brought back fears for many Somalis that the Horn of Africa nation could collapse back into chaos after years of trying to rebuild. Alarmed, the international community worried that the al-Shabab extremist group would take advantage.
Saturday’s actions mean a return to talks on how to carry out the election that has been delayed since early February, when some Somalis believe the president’s term ended.
Mohamed asked lawmakers to back the agreement the federal government reached with regional states last September on a way forward for the vote. He asked Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble to lead the election preparations and the related security measures.
“I also ask the opposition leaders to play their role in pacifying the country and Mogadishu, in particular, for the sake of the people, country and religion,” the president said.
Somalia’s leader also for the first time publicly expressed his condolences to those who died or were displaced during the clashes in Mogadishu. The United Nations has said several tens of thousands fled their homes.
Some in the opposition had hoped that the president would resign. Mohamed left the future unclear, not saying whether he would run for a second term.
It is unknown how long it will take for the election to be organized.
Opposition leaders, however, did not appear to be satisfied with Saturday’s events.
“(The president) can never be trusted as he flip-flops between his own words in unpredictable or reasonable ways,” said Abdirahman Abdishakur, one of the opposition candidates.
Despite the prime minister’s call for all security forces to return to their barracks, the soldiers backing the opposition remained on the streets of the capital Saturday. Mogadishu was quiet, but tense.
And some of the displaced hesitated to go home.
“Would you bring your wife and children in the middle of those opposing forces, right in front of and around your house?” asked Mohamed Abdulle Farah, who had fled the Hodan district of the capital.
Corrects that the extension decision was made last month in April, not this month.