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Somalia: No Popular Elections in 2016

FILE - Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
FILE - Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

The president of Somalia has told VOA that his government will not hold popular elections next year, due to continuing insecurity in the country.

In an interview Wednesday with VOA's Somali Service, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said that "one person, one vote" elections will not be possible under current circumstances.

He added that the polls, when they happen, may take a different shape.

“It’s the pinnacle of democracy that everyone who is eligible votes to elect, but there is a big gap between there and where we stand,” Mohamud said. “We never said an election is not possible. There are different phases and different models for elections, and we are aiming for the next best option, but we have not yet agreed on a format to transition in 2016.”

Mohamud denied that this will be seen as a failure by his government to honor pledges it made.

“We never promised one person, one vote and to make a ballot box available in every meter of the country,” he told VOA. “We promised a better process than the one that brought us [to power] - an easier and more dignified process.”

The current government was mandated to lead Somalia into general elections following the election of Mohamud, a new parliament and adoption of a new constitution in 2012.

However, militant group al-Shabab continues to carry out violent attacks. The group has killed several members of parliament, launched two attacks on the presidential palace last year and car-bombed a popular Mogadishu hotel on Sunday, killing 18 people.

The president insisted his government has made progress since it came to power in 2012. He promised that he will deliver “something new and a better process” than in the past.

“We are not arguing everything is 100 percent correct. We are not claiming perfection," he said in the interview. "We are arguing that there’s progress on the political, economic and security fronts. But convincing the people about this will depend on a transfer of power to the next government without conflict, disturbance, friction or chaos. That is a duty on our shoulders.”

Several options for elections have been circulated by Somali researchers and think tanks in recent months. One idea is to hold an indirect poll where selected voters pick parliament members who will then vote for a president.

However, Mohamud says no agreement has been reached. He said it will be up to the government, regional administrations and other stakeholders to come to an agreement.

He said he will seek re-election, and categorically denied that he wants an extension of his current term of office.

“That is still under discussion between the Somalis, the parliament and administrations, but there wasn’t any discussion about extending the mandate," Mohamud said. "We have a chance to say to the people, ‘Elect us,’ and to present our opinion. There is no reason for us to demand an extension.”

The government is still battling al-Shabab militants, to expand its authority and stabilize areas seized from the militant group. Earlier this month, the African Union mission AMISOM and Somali government forces launched a new offensive to drive al-Shabab from the mostly rural territories it still controls.