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September 10, 2012

Somalia Elects a New President

by Gabe Joselow

Somalia's parliament on Monday elected political moderate Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country's new president.  The lesser-known candidate's landslide victory is a major step in the country's long-running political transition.
 
Hundreds of Somali delegates burst into a rendition of the country's national anthem after Mr. Mohamud was announced as the country's next president.
 
His victory came as a surprise to many observers in Mogadishu who had predicted an easy win for the incumbent President of the Transitional Federal Government Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
 
Members of parliament, voting anonymously, chose Mr. Mohamud over Mr. Sharif in the second round of voting, giving him 190 votes compared to 79 for the incumbent president.
 
After coming in second behind Mr. Sharif in a first round of voting, two other candidates, including the incumbent prime minister, dropped out of the race and threw their support behind Mr. Mohamud.
 
The president-elect took the oath office soon after his victory was announced.  He then congratulated the Somali people for coming to the end of a hard-traveled road, and asked for their support going forward. “I want to ask the Somali people to lend me their helping hand," he said, “in order to establish a functioning government throughout Somalia," he said. 
 
Outgoing President Ahmed, who conceded defeat after the vote, promised to work with the new government.  He said he told the country's security chiefs to take orders from the new president.
 
One of Mohamud's supporters, parliament member Abdullahi Mohammed Hersi, says the election represents a new direction for the country. “The right man has been elected, change has occurred, and I'm happy that now we have a new leader which has a vision of a new Somalia.  And I think that the Somali community and the Somali population are happy about the outcome of this election," he said. 
 
The new president is 56 years old and a lifelong civil society activist.  With a background in education, Mohamud was one of the founders of the Somali Institute of Management and Administration Development in 1999.  Last year, he became the first chairman of Somalia's Peace and Development Party.
 
Before the election, Mohamud said it is important for Somali politicians to look beyond the clan lines that divide the country. “In a clan setting, you can only produce a clan leader; you cannot produce a national leader.  Here, in the political parties, we intend to produce national leaders.  Our main focus is that," he said. 
 
United Nations Special Representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga says the election brings a decisive end to Somalia's transition period.  He said “Somalia must now focus on stabilization, reconciliation, and building sustainable and accountable institutions.”
 
President Mohamud will serve a four-year term in office.  An official inauguration ceremony is expected in the coming days.