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Somalia's newly-endorsed constitution widely hailed

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The provisional Somali constitution which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the country's National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in Mogadishu has been widely welcomed and praised as one of the top legal documents in the world.

The Somali constituent assembly of 825 delegates drawn from people from all walks of life has been debating the draft constitution for the past week and voted almost unanimously for the new constitution to replace the 8-year old Somali charter.

The constituent assembly adopted the constitution with 96 percent yes vote of the 645 delegates present at the venue, while 2 percent voted against and the other 2 percent abstained from voting.

The vote came despite foiled twin suicide bomb attacks at the gate of the venue during the assembly's session on Wednesday.

However, the Somali provisional constitution has been praised both locally and internationally as one of the best legal documents and its adoption as a milestone.

Somali government said that the adoption of provisional constitution marks a great milestone that brings the transitional period by 20 August with the election of a new president for the country in accordance with the roadmap agreed upon by Somali leaders.

"For one year, our effort to pass a new constitution is realized today through your hard work and patriotism when you acted responsibly to endorse the draft constitution," Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said.

The Somali government said: "the next step will be the selection of members for the new parliament, who will then select the parliament speaker before a new president is inaugurated with a transparent and accountable government for the country."

The UN Somalia envoy Augustine Mahiga welcomed the adoption of the new provisional constitution as "momentous occasion" and an "historic achievement".

"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," Mahiga said in a statement issued after the vote to adopt the country top legal document.

The African Union peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has more than 18,000 troops deployed in the country and is mandated by the UN to protect the Somali government, also welcomed the endorsing of the constitution and congratulated Somalis on "major step forward on the road to national recovery".

"The adoption of a Provisional Constitution by a National Constituent Assembly, representative of the people of Somalia, will protect the gains made and provide a legal foundation for Somalia's new institutions," Boubacar Diarra, special representative of AU Commission for Somalia, said in a statement.

"Today is the culmination of years of hard work by the Somali people with the support of the International community," Diarra added.

Diara urged for the steps in the political process, such as the selection of the upcoming Members of Parliament, the subsequent election by the new legislature of its speaker and deputies as well as the new President, "be conducted in a fair and credible manner".

Ordinary Somalis expressed hope the new constitution, which offers more fundamental rights and protection than the country's previous fundamental legal documents, will herald new era of peace and stability in war-tired Somalia.

"I think the fact that the constitution was adopted in Mogadishu is something important in itself but what is more significant is that the constitution gives us more rights and protection than many countries' constitution," Raaho Daahir, a businesswoman in Mogadishu said.

But some have also raised objections to parts of the constitution which they said goes against the teaching of Islam including the provision of the right to hold elected positions to women, the banning of all forms of female circumcision and the right of abortion for women.

Others have qualms with the highly devolved federal system and the loose division of power between federal and regional governments.

"With this constitution as it stands with regards to division of power between the federal government and the regions unity of our country is history. Somalia is turned into loosely connected regional states that keep on wrangling among themselves over every step of the way. We need to change that and get a strong federal government that works to unite the people of Somalia," Harun Daud, an academic in Mogadishu said.

The new constitution offers key rights to Somali women, children and minorities and makes Islamic law or the Shariah as the bases for all legislation in the Muslim country and no laws which are not complainant with the general principles of Islamic law can be enacted.

The constitution says: "No religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country. It also enshrines the right of every person to practice his or her religion."

Women will have 30% representation in the upcoming parliament and in future government positions.

The next step after the adoption of the constitution is the selection of the 275 member parliament that will replace the current one which has double that membership. The new legislature will elect a Speaker and deputy speakers and a new president before the end of the transitional period later in the month.


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