Somali parliament rejects president's dismissal of prime minister

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Somalia's parliament overwhelmingly voted Monday to keep Nur Hassan Hussein as their prime minister, blocking President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's attempt at dismissing the prime minister and his "corrupt, inefficient" government.

President Yusuf announced his motion to dismiss Hussein on Sunday, saying his government was "unable to perform its duties" in matters such as dealing with the Islamic militants who have taken over most of the country. The latest dispute between the two involved efforts to reconcile with the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), the country's main opposition group. The UN-sponsored peace process has been decried by Yusuf as dealing with terrorists.

Hussein countered that the president had no authority to strip the prime minister of his post, and that the transitional federal charter required the approval of parliament for such an action. "The president was speaking in his usual personal capacity, contrary to the rules and regulations," Hussein said prior to the special parliamentary session in Baidoa.

Despite Yusuf's hope that the parliament would endorse his decision, members of parliament were strongly supportive of Hussein's government, with 143 members recognizing the government's legitimacy, 20 rejecting its legitimacy and 7 abstaining. "Therefore the government of Hassan Hussein is legitimate," said Aden Mohamed Nur, the parliamentary speaker.

Hussein, whom Yusuf appointed little more than a year ago after the resignation of Ali Mohamed Gedi, had previously survived a vote of no confidence in September, when he faced accusations of embezzling state funds.

"The only obstacle in front of my government was the president," Hussein told members of parliament after the vote, "and since I have the confidence of the MPs I hope it will be effective henceforth." Yusuf had no immediate comment on the vote, but he had previously stated he would comply with parliament's decision if they chose to block his dismissal.

The relationship between the president and prime minister has grown increasingly strained over the issue of Islamic militancy. Yusuf has blamed the prime minister for the instability plaguing the politically fragile state, while Hussein has accused the president of trying to "sabotage" peace efforts between the transitional government and the ARS. Fighting between the Islamic opposition and Somali-backed troops from Ethiopia, the African Union, and the UN has killed thousands of Somalis and displaced millions.

Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, said the dispute within the transitional government has the potential of undermining efforts for "further reconciliation, peace, and stability in Somalia." The UN also issued a statement condemning the dispute, and demonstrators gathered in the streets of Mogadishu to denounce the president's move.

Although moderate Islamists from the ARS have agreed to enter into reconciliation talks, hardliner insurgents have rejected the attempts at peace and continue to take over towns in the central and northern regions of Somalia. Since the fall of the Islamic Courts Union, organizations like Al-Shabaab have become leading insurgent groups. A spokesman for Al-Shabaab told reporters on Sunday that they intend to impose Sharia law on all of Somalia, and that a peace deal would never be accepted.