Somalia's National Constituent Assembly (NCA) on Wednesday voted to endorse a draft constitution after eight days of deliberations, paving the way for formation of a new government before the mandate of the current transitional government ends later this month.
The NCA approved the text of the document in a 621 to 13 vote majority with 11 abstentions. The development came as the United Nations mandate for Somalia's current government, known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), is set to expire on August 20.
The NCA, which has total of 825 delegates drawn from all Somali clans, was entrusted with the responsibilities of adopting the new constitution, a new 275-member parliament and electing a president before the August 20 deadline expires.
After Wednesday's vote, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed congratulated the NCA members who voted to adopt the new constitution, saying that the vote has effectively ended Somalia's period of transitional government.
Nevertheless, the draft constitution approved by the NCA on Wednesday still has to be ratified by the new parliament to take effect. The NCA-chosen parliament also has the responsibility of electing a new president. Although the original plan was to put the new constitution to a referendum, it was later scrapped as holding a public vote across the troubled country under the present circumstances is virtually impossible.
The new constitution makes Islamic law, or the Sharia, the basis for Somalia's legal foundation and prohibits the propagation of any other religion in the country. Nevertheless, it protects the right to an abortion to save the life of the mother and bans the circumcision of girls, a common practice in Somalia that opponents call female genital mutilation.
It gives the citizens right to education up to secondary level, calls for establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and requires all territorial disputes with neighboring countries to be settled peacefully.
UN Secretary-General ban Ki-moon welcomed the development, and congratulated "the delegates and the Somali leadership for this historic achievement and their commitment to ending the transition and to establishing new, representative political institutions in the country."
Separately, Ban's Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, said in a statement that the "adoption of the Provisional Constitution is an historic achievement as it completes one of the most important milestones towards ending the current transitional period and ushering in a new political future."
Incidentally, Wednesday's NCA vote came after two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the meeting venue in Mogadishu. While the two bombers were killed in the resultant explosions, one Somali soldier was injured in the incident.
Somalia has been without a functioning government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's government in 1991. Currently, the UN-backed interim government set up in 2004 is struggling to enforce its authority in Somalia.
Until recently, Islamist militant groups, including al-Shabaab, controlled large areas in southern Somalia where they enforced strict Islamic laws or Sharia. But in recent months, Somali forces, backed by African Union peacekeepers, have managed to seize control of most regions, except some pockets that are under rebel control.
by RTT Staff Writer
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