Somalia delays landmark regional vote as tensions rise
MOGADISHU - Somalia's South West state will delay a key presidential vote for the third time because it is not sufficiently prepared, the semi-autonomous region's election committee said on Saturday.
Tensions between the federal government and state authorities have mounted in recent weeks after Mogadishu tried to block the candidacy of former al Shabaab Islamist militant Mukhtar Robow.
"After the committee evaluated the many activities awaiting, available time and the incomplete tasks to be completed within a short time frame..., (it) decided the election date will be 19 December," a committee statement said.
The original date for the election was Nov. 17 before its initial postponement to Nov. 28 and then to Dec. 5.
South West is slated to be the first of Somalia's seven semi-autonomous regions to hold presidential elections in the coming months, a critical juncture in a growing power struggle between the central government in Mogadishu and the states.
The postponement in South West state came a day after the central government deployed dozens of federal police officers to Baidoa, the state capital, to help "tighten security", said Hassan Hussein, South West state security minister.
Further deployments would be made to help prevent al Shabaab destabilising the election, Hussein told reporters on Friday.
"There is an election and what is required is an election to take place peacefully. The enemy al Shabaab often tries to terrify the peace of South West state," Hussein said.
Somalia has been trying to claw its way out of the remnants of the civil war that engulfed it in 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.
Al Shabaab has been fighting for more than a decade to topple the weak central government and implement its interpretation of Islamic law.
In November, over half South West's election committee resigned, accusing the central government of interfering in the vote and attempting to install their preferred candidate.
Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research, said there were legitimate technical issues surrounding the vote, but that the delay and police deployment were making the situation increasingly tense.
"The situation is increasingly unpredictable and I wouldn't even rule out the risk of violence in the coming days. And if that happens, then the situation could develop in any direction," Bryden said.