New York, Aug 21 (IBNS): United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the inauguration Monday of the New Federal Parliament of Somalia as a major milestone in the nation's peace and reconciliation process, according to his spokesperson.
"He congratulates the people of Somalia on reaching this watershed moment on their road to peace, stability and political transformation," Ban's spokesperson added in a statement. "The Somali people have waited twenty years for peace to take root in their country. Now is the time to begin a new chapter in their history."
According to the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), some 215 of the total number of 275 Members of Parliament were sworn in today at an inauguration ceremony in the capital, Mogadishu, passing the benchmark of 185 which allows for the new Federal Parliament to convene with a functioning majority.
The UN chief was joined in his welcoming of the inauguration by his Special Representative and head of UNPOS, Augustine Mahiga.
"This historic moment marks the long-awaited end of the transitional period in Somalia," Mahiga said in news release. "The new MPs, selected after broad-based, grass-roots consultations and representing all of Somalia's clans, have been successfully screened against objective criteria and are now ready to start their important work."
After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with the country's transitional federal institutions implementing a so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition, which spells out priority measures to be carried out before the current transitional governing arrangements end by the deadline of August 20.
The measures included the drafting of a new Provisional Constitution, and the selection of the Members of Parliament by a group of 135 traditional Somali Elders, with the advice of a Technical Selection Committee.
A National Constituent Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Provisional Constitution on 1 August. The document was a key part of the Roadmap process, providing a legal framework governing the workings of the new Somali Federal Institutions after August 20.
"The Somali people have met the key 20 August deadline of the Roadmap on ending the transitional period and showed their courage and determination in moving forward on the road to peace and stability," Mahiga said.
Held at Mogadishu International Airport, the inauguration ceremony was attended by the currently serving President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, respectively, and the current Speaker of Parliament -- a former army general, Mussa Hassan Abdulle, who was appointed interim Speaker of the Parliament -- as well as members of the Mogadishu-based diplomatic community.
"The Secretary-General commends the courage and tenacity of the Technical Selection Committee and Somalia's traditional Elders, who have worked steadfastly, in the face of immense pressure, to select and approve a new Parliament that is credible and representative of the national character of Somalia," Mr. Ban's spokesperson said.
"He urges them to complete the nomination and vetting of remaining candidates, to ensure that the full complement of the new Parliament is able to sit within a few days," the spokesperson added.
In the lead-up to August 20, there had been reports of spoilers trying to ensure that the political status quo was maintained and extended beyond the transition process, through tactics such as intimidation, bribery, and influence-peddling.
Mahiga paid tribute to the "hard work and dedication" of the Elders for identifying the parliamentary candidates, UNPOS noted in its press release, adding that the envoy also hailed the Technical Selection Committee for "diligently vetting the candidates and to all the Somali people at this moment of hope, optimism and progress."
"Today's events are the culmination of over 12 months of arduous and contentious political negotiations and mark the beginning of the last phase of the transition which will be completed in the coming days with the appointment of a speaker, deputy speaker and a president," Mahiga said.
According to media reports on Monday, the new lawmakers also decided to delay the election of a new president by a few days.
Ban's spokesperson said the Secretary-General calls on the parliamentarians to discharge their new responsibilities "with courage and integrity, in the interests of all Somalis," and encourages them to "urgently" complete the preparations to elect a speaker, deputy speaker and president, so that the transition process can end in line with previous accords on Somalia's future, such as the Djibouti Agreement, the Kampala Accord, and the Garowe Principles.
"The Secretary-General urges all actors to ensure that the final steps to end the transition are completed promptly, peacefully, and in an environment free from intimidation," Ban's spokesperson said.
In its news release, UNPOS noted that "careful" selection had resulted in high number of university graduates, people with relevant professional experience and a significant number of women entering the Parliament, although the agreed-upon quota of 30 per cent of seats for women parliamentarians was not reached. Somali leaders had committed to ensuring that women hold 30 per cent of all seats in the new institutions.