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Political consensus in Somalia must be "preserved and indeed deepened," says UN envoy


Tuesday November 24, 2020

"With elections approaching, I underscore my previous calls for the protection of political space, for tolerance of divergent opinions, for respect of free speech and association, and for media freedom," says James Swan.

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- The "broad political consensus" reached in September that ended a two-year stalemate in Somalia, an impoverished, war-torn eastern African country, must be "preserved and indeed deepened," the country's UN envoy told the Security Council on Monday.

Although the agreed model of voting "regrettably fell short" of the constitutional requirement for parliamentary elections based on the principle of universal suffrage, Special Representative James Swan, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), acknowledged that it did reflect "wide Somali political consensus and ownership."

"In addition to the support of the president and federal member state leaders, the indirect model was also endorsed by other key Somali stakeholders, including political parties and civil society, and was ratified by the Federal Parliament," he said via videoconference.

The official painted a picture of a country facing critical decisions, namely "an electoral process to choose the parliament and president in the coming few months; a security transition so that Somalis can assume lead security responsibility by the end of 2021; and urgent priorities for humanitarian response and economic reforms."

Dubbing 2021 "a transition year in which Somalia, which borders the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, Ethiopia and Kenya, takes lead responsibility on security matters," Swan sought a "strategic vision" for the country's security that would be supported by diverse backers, including "external actors."

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He also lauded, among others, the Somali security forces and African Union (AU) mission in the country, for contributing to collective gains in the security realm.

The UNSOM chief underscored that agreed-upon processes must be "more participatory and inclusive" and welcomed the agreement of political leaders to ensure a 30 percent quota for women to sit in parliament.

Women's rights groups, prominent businesswomen and female politicians in Somalia last month urged the country's male-dominated parliament to pass a bill reserving 30 percent of seats for women in next year's general election.

Women hold 24 percent of the 329 seats in Somalia's lower and upper houses of parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, up from 14 percent in the previous election.

As Somalia focuses on the electoral process, he upheld that the UN would continue to press for "participation by historically underrepresented groups," including women, youth and marginalized communities.

"They all have much to contribute to peace, stability, and development in their country," said the envoy.

Turning to the longer term, Swan explained that in collaboration with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) and international partners, UNSOM would contribute to implementing the electoral agreement and "universal suffrage elections in the future."

"To this end, we urge Somali leaders to prepare consensually a roadmap with clear timelines and benchmarks to ensure one-person-one-vote elections take place in 2024/25," he said.

The UN's development work in Somalia is centered around human rights and justice, according to the UNSOM chief.

"With elections approaching, I underscore my previous calls for the protection of political space, for tolerance of divergent opinions, for respect of free speech and association, and for media freedom," he noted.

In closing, Swan assured the council of UNSOM's ongoing work in promoting political cooperation.

"Our good offices are aimed at fostering the widest levels of inclusion and consensus possible," he said.



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