GAROWE, Somalia Oct 19 (Garowe Online) -
The opposition leader in Somalia's northeastern state of Puntland has called for the establishment of a nonpartisan Election Commission ahead of the January 2009 presidential elections.
Abdirahman Mohamed "Farole," the region's leading opposition candidate, told Puntland-based Radio Garowe during a lengthy interview Sunday that he is confident in his capacity to lead during these troubled times.
"I am one of the founding fathers [of Puntland] who helped enact the Provisional Constitution [of 1998]," Mr. Farole said.
He described his reign as Minister of Finance as a time when government employees were paid regularly and there were measures to counterweigh hyperinflation, a development that has impacted the region's meager economy since 2007.
As Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Mr. Farole said he supported efforts to ensure that aid agencies "operated in all parts of Puntland" at a time when the region was still reeling from the effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
"The dispute with the President [of Puntland, Gen. Adde Muse] happened as we were in the process of finalizing the Five-Year Development Plan" which was authored by the Ministry of Planning, he added.
Farole and Muse – who were allies during the 2005 election – disagreed strongly on an oil deal the Puntland leader signed unilaterally with a small mining firm based in Australia.
When Muse engineered a parliament plot to sack him in February 2006, Farole supporters prohibited lawmakers from entering the parliament building in Garowe, the capital of Puntland.
Three young men were gunned down in front of parliament hall in the government's crackdown, causing political uproar and a security nightmare for the government.
Farole, who has lived in Australia since, told Radio Garowe that he plans to come to Puntland within the next two weeks.
'Changed is needed'
Puntland's opposition leader declared that "change is needed" to restore the region's vision of being a strong provincial authority.
"When I left, Puntland was well-established with security, law and order and on the correct path. There were no pirates, no [illegal militia] roadblocks," he added.
At the time, government resources were utilized in development initiatives like the construction of Bender Qassim International Airport in the Gulf of Aden port of Bossaso and efforts to start construction of a brand-new airport in Garowe.
He said the current state of insecurity in many Puntland towns is drawn from "tolerance for trouble," while urging everyone to respect and uphold the rule of law.
Mr. Farole called for the establishment of an independent Election Commission that is free from the influence of Puntland government leaders or the presidential candidates.
"The government should not appoint members of the Election Commission, but the government and the presidential candidates must approve its membership," he said.
He stated that the Puntland elections slated for January 8, 2009 must be held on time as promised
Further, Mr. Farole strongly suggested that government resources should not be used to fund presidential campaigns.
"Low-level officials like a Director-General should hold government money and give out payments related only to security and salary," he said, adding: "This is to prevent government leaders from using the money for politics and the election campaign."
On Somaliland's takeover of Las Anod, Mr. Farole said it is "unfortunate" that some regions are missing from Puntland control.
"I am saddened by the families who were forced to flee their homes [in Las Anod]," he said while noting the physical and financial burdens inflicted upon the civilian population in the Puntland-Somaliland conflict.
If elected president, Mr. Farole said his major priorities would include restoring security and drafting a new constitution passed in a public referendum.
The new constitution would introduce political parties in Puntland, so the region can mature politically and progress beyond the clan-based system, Mr. Farole added.
He appealed for the 66-member Puntland Parliament to elect the next leader based on merit and leadership qualities.
Farole warned against speculation that the government of Puntland plans to open a war with Somaliland, a separatist region in northwest Somalia, over the principal town of Las Anod.
"I have not seen any official statements [about possible war with Somaliland] but if it's true then the intention s to delay the elections, a frequent tactic in Africa," he noted.
Mr. Farole cautioned against any effort to delay or disturb peaceful elections in Puntland.
Other presidential contenders like Gen. Abdullahi Ahmed "Ilkajir," Adan Mohamed "Gadale," Nurradin Aden Dirie and Mohamed Abdi Nur have already began campaigning on the ground in Puntland.
President Muse has announced that he plans to run for re-election, while former Fisheries and Ports Minister Ahmed Said O'Nur resigned from the post yesterday and declared his candidacy for the Puntland presidency.
Source: Garowe Online