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Somalia's Puntland region voices opposition to provisional constitution revisions

Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland is criticizing changes made by the federal parliament to the country’s provisional constitution and announced it is withdrawing recognition for federal government institutions.

In a statement by the region's council of ministers issued Sunday from the capital, Garowe — Puntland alleges the constitution, that had been enacted in 2012, was amended without the input of all Somalis, including those in the region.

The changes were approved Saturday during a joint session of the bicameral federal parliament in Mogadishu and followed weeks of debate.

Regional officials said as a result, “Puntland will have the power of a full, independent government until there is a federal system of government agreed upon, a constitution agreed by Somalis, and approved through a referendum in which Puntland is part of.”

Essentially, Puntland is refusing to recognize the authority of the Somali federal government until the dispute — over the changes to the constitution — is resolved.

Puntland is the oldest federal member state with 48 lawmakers in the country’s two houses of parliament, as well as ministers and representation in all federal institutions.

It is not clear if Puntland will recall the lawmakers, ministers and civil servants from the region who are working as part of the federal institution.

The dispute centers on changes to the first four chapters and expected amendments to the entire 15-chapter provisional constitution. The main changes so far deal with the powers of the president, the number of national political parties, and federal and state-level elections.

Under one of the revisions, the parliament gives the president the authority to hire and fire the prime minister. Previously, only parliament had the power to dismiss the prime minister.

VOA contacted the Somali government including the office of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for a response, but no reply was given.

In a Facebook post Saturday, President Mohamud hailed as “historic,” the parliament’s move to approve the first four revised chapters of the constitution.

"The completion of the constitution is essential for promoting democracy, the nation and state institutions,” he said.

“I urge lawmakers in the two houses of parliament to resume deliberating amendments and completion of the remaining chapters of the constitution.”
On Sunday evening, Mohamud signed off on the amended copy of the first four chapters.

In August 2012, a National Constituent Assembly composed of 825 people from various sectors of society approved the original provisional constitution. At the time, however, the assembly said certain articles needed further review, including resource sharing, citizenship and the status of the capital, Mogadishu. Somalia adopted the federal system in 2004. It was intended to transfer some of the powers of the central government to the state and district levels and maintain unity.

In June 2023, a National Consultative Council, which includes President Mohamud, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, four regional leaders and the mayor of Mogadishu, met and agreed to introduce direct elections as early as this June and unify the election schedules. They also endorsed a presidential system.

Some of those proposals were integrated into the amended constitution while some were rejected. Puntland was already absent from the June 2023 meeting after declaring in January of last year that it was going to conduct its affairs as an “independent government” citing alleged undermining of state building processes.

The current amendments to the constitution have divided opinions in Somalia with some strongly in support and others vehemently opposed. Ahmed Isse Awad, a former foreign affairs minister, who ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of Puntland earlier this year, said both the federal government and Puntland have made “rushed” decisions.

“This was unnecessary; it did not go through the normal process of constitutional reform,” he said when asked about the amendments.

“Somalia has suffered, and the Somali state has collapsed due to the absence of institutional framework and the political culture of a strong man. And it seems that this constitution entrenched that political culture that has already caused the collapse of the Somali state.”

Awad said the president should “uphold” the existing constitution and “if a constitution has to be amended, reformed or completed, it has to go through the democratic process.

Awad said Puntland should equally “respect” the federal constitution but said he did not think the region intended to secede from the rest of Somalia just because the federal government was “messing” with the constitution.

“Puntland is part of the federal government; the constitution of Puntland cannot contradict the federal constitution,” he said.

“Just like the federal government is elected to prioritize state building, good governance and to better the livelihood of the Somali people, the government in Puntland is elected to prioritize the wishes of the Puntland people and their good governance therein, but not to dismember the Somali state.”

Puntland accused the Somali president of “violating the constitution that he was elected and sworn in.”

“Hassan Sheikh has lost his constitutional legitimacy as president,” the statement read.

Separately, the U.N. Assistance Mission to Somalia issued a statement urging all stakeholders in Somalia to “redouble their efforts to build consensus through an inclusive process.” The statement was issued on behalf of Somalia’s international partners.

Puntland said in the statement, it will directly negotiate with the international community and international organizations on matters concerning its interests.

It said the decision will be put before the region’s parliament for endorsement.

VOA’s Mohamed Olad Hassan contributed to this report.