January 07, 2014
A tense security climate has descended on Puntland's capital of Garowe in Somalia, with the city cordoned off ahead of the state's presidential election Wednesday (January 8th).
The city's two entry points have been closed and no one has been allowed to enter or leave the city since January 2nd. Vehicle traffic has also been suspended around main roads inside the city with motor traffic limited to security forces and emergency vehicles.
"The entire city is safe. We will keep conducting the security exercises. We have increased troops in the city so that the election can take place peacefully," General Said Mohamed Hirsi, head of the Puntland Election Security Committee, told Sabahi. "We are asking the public to work on security with us. Be patient during the days when the roads are closed. No vehicle is allowed to drive within the city unless it is an emergency."
Special security forces have been deployed throughout the city to patrol the streets and conduct searches along Garowe's main roads and residential neighbourhoods.
In the last several days, undercover police and intelligence forces have also been conducting nightly hotel searches, with hotel managers instructed to monitor the movements of hotel guests and report suspicious activity.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is helping election security forces by providing them with uniforms, which will be different from those of other Puntland police. The uniforms, which include military fatigues, have been turned over to the security committee.
"They have worked with us well and we are grateful [to UNSOM]," Hirsi said.
Security has also been tightened around government buildings, and additional security forces have been dispatched to guard the homes of the candidates vying for the presidency.
Eleven candidates are running for the presidency, including the current Puntland State President, Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, and the former Prime Minister of the Somali federal government, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. The others are: Ali Haji Warsame, Ali Abdulqadir Yusuf, Abdiweli Mohamud Guray, Shire Haji Farah, Mohamud Abdirahman Uke, Abdullahi Said Samater, Mohamed Abdinur Hirsi, Abdidahir Mohamed Yusuf Yeey, and Ali Abdi Aware.
Running separately for the office of vice-president are: Ahmed Elmi Osman Garash, Abdihakim Abdillahi Haji Omar, Hussein Hashi Hassan, Abdisamad Ali Shire, Abdillahi Ali Hirsi, Dahir Haji Khalif Mohamed, Abdirasaq Mohamed, Mohamed Hirsi Duale, Mohamud Aydid Dirir, and Abdillahi Dahir Mohamud.
Candidates that receive 2/3 of the parliamentarians' votes will win their respective election. If there is no winner in the first round, the top three candidates will face each other in a runoff and need 45 votes to be elected. If there is no winner in that round, a third and final round will be held with the top two candidates who will only need a simple majority to win.
On Tuesday, candidates concluded their campaigns and made their final cases to the 66-member body.
Teashops in Garowe have been buzzing with political discussion and anticipation, as citizens, particularly the youth, seek out the latest news about the election and debate how the top issues, such as security, the economy and governance, will affect their lives.
"Whenever I want to know about what news is going around town, whether political news or [other] news, I go to teashops," Garowe resident Faisal Mursal Ahmed told Sabahi at New York Café, one of the city's go-to places for anyone interested to engage in political discussion.
"My view is that the Farole administration should be re-elected [for continuance' sake] because I would like to see progress. Any new administration would have to start anew which is not in our interest," said the unemployed 22-year-old, adding that security and jobs are his top two concerns.
But while praising the current administration for resolving disputes and ensuring a peaceful election, Garowe resident Shine Hussein Yusuf said change is exactly what Puntland needs at this juncture.
"Many people said Puntland would fall apart, so for us, the youth, this is an unforgettable lesson on how to compromise and reach solutions peacefully," said Yusuf, 24.
"By God's grace I hope our election takes place well. However, I think there should be a change because the state is fractured and not all the regions have peace," he said, adding that the Farole administration failed to provide services outside of the city centres.
Regardless of who wins, for Jama Awil Abdi, a 30-year-old resident of Garowe, the most important thing that officials in the next government should keep in mind is to put the interest of the people ahead of their own.
"The Puntland society is vulnerable. It has become a settling place for displaced people. There are many enemies, the foremost being al-Shabaab, which needs special scrutiny. It is necessary [for the new president] to work toward the greater good. We are asking that special interests should not become prioritized at any time," he said.
The election has drawn Somalis from across the country and foreigners who have come to Garowe to monitor the exercise, which will be the first since Puntland adopted its first permanent constitution in 2012. The new president will also be the state's fourth president since its formation in 1998.
"While we have been [in Garowe] we have seen positive things. Each candidate is going about his business separately and meeting whomever he wants at any time with the government ensuring the security of the election … and the candidates," Zainab Sharmarke Hashi, a member of the Puntland Diaspora Forum, told Sabahi. "While there are politics at play, the fact that each [candidate] is going about his business means that everyone has agreed on the interests of the public.
"We expect that the presidential election will take place in a good manner and that the election committee will be just," she said. "We are also calling on the politicians to work with anyone who wins and be satisfied with the outcome."
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