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Somali Leaders Agree on Draft Constitution

Left to right: UN Special Representative for Somalia Mahiga, Somali Parliament Speaker Aden, Somali President Ahmed, Somali PM Ali, Puntland President Farole in Nairobi, Kenya, June 22, 2012.
NAIROBI, Kenya -The key stakeholders in Somalia's political transition process have agreed on a draft constitution, a significant step toward establishing a more permanent government. The time for the transition is running out, with less than two months to go before a deadline to elect a parliament and a new president.

Somalia inched closer Friday to ending an eight-year long political transition, with the signing of several key measures on the so-called Roadmap.

The United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, hailed the agreement on a new constitution as a significant milestone.

“This stage in Nairobi is probably the most critical because it ushers in the accomplishment of one of the major steps to end the transition, and that is the approval of a draft constitution,” he said.

The six signatories to the Roadmap, who are the heads of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, leaders of Somali regional governments, and a representative of an influential militia, reached agreement Friday after more than two days of wrangling in the Kenyan capital.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali said the debates centered around the size of the future parliament and the methods for selecting future lawmakers.

“It went through a difficult process, but with all the challenges that we faced, we finally delivered to the Somali people,” he said.

The draft constitution still must be approved by a National Constituent Assembly that will meet in Mogadishu next month. It will then only be a provisional charter until it is ratified through a national referendum.

The signatories at the Nairobi meeting decided to push back the Constituent Assembly meeting by two weeks.

That decision will leave only one month to elect a parliament and a new president before the agreed-upon August 20th deadline.

Prime Minister Ali acknowledged that the pressure is on.

"Hopefully, inshalla, we will deliver," he said. "We are in unison of purpose and we all have to reach that finishing line after 58 days."

A recent VOA survey of 3,000 Somalis from across the country and in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya showed 83 percent of respondents want a constitution with a strong central government. Eighty-seven percent say the constitution should be based in Sharia, or Islamic law.

The war-torn and drought-ravaged country has not had a stable central government since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.