GAROWE, Somalia Apr 15, 2012 (Garowe Online) – A historic convention opened Sunday in Puntland State of Somalia, with hundreds of Convention delegates expected to adopt the state’s new constitution, Radio Garowe reports.
The four-day convention opened at 8:00am at parliament hall in Garowe, across from the presidential compound. The convention consists of by 480 representatives selected from across Puntland regions and social groups. The opening ceremony was attended Government officials led by President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, traditional elders, foreign dignitaries, and other guests of honor.
The convention opened with an Islamic sermon delivered by Sheikh Mohamud Haji Yusuf, who emphasized that the Puntland Constitution conforms to Islamic Shari’ah law.
“The Government appointed a Committee including Islamic scholars to analyze the Constitution article-by-article and to ensure conformity with Shari’ah law, which the Puntland Constitution satisfies,” said Sheikh Mohamud Haji Yusuf.
Electoral Commission Chairman
Chairman of Puntland Electoral Commission (PEC), Mr. Mohamed Hassan Barre, described the steps of the democratization process in Puntland until today’s convention.
“You delegates can all testify that the selection process for the delegates was fair and transparent and all communities freely sent their representatives to this convention,” said the PEC Chairman.
Mr. Barre expressed his thanks to President Farole for committing to advance and complete the democratization process and lead Puntland towards a multiparty political system.
The PEC Chairman sent his appreciation to agencies that helped with the democratization process, namely Puntland Parliament, PEC members, Interpeace organization, UN agencies, and Puntland Development and Research Center (PDRC).
Puntland civil society
Mr. Ali Farah, a senior researcher at PDRC, commented about the process the Puntland Constitution underwent since 2005. Mr. Farah described the process, which commenced during the term of former Puntland President Adde Muse Hersi.
Speaking behalf of Puntland civil society, Mr. Nur Mohamed Nur, chairman of the Puntland Non-State Actors Association (PUNSAA), praised the Convention and remarked that civil society groups “fully support the Constitution.”
Mr. noted: “This Constitution protects human rights, freedom of speech, and allows the contribution of traditional elders and women.”
Sultan Saeed Abdisalam, chief of Warsangeli clan of Sanaag region, offered brief words that included congratulations, advice and prayers for peace in Puntland and Somalia as a whole.
“This constitution is vital in order for our people to reaffirm our unity. I call upon the people to work with each other and to cooperate with the Puntland Government. I also pray to Allah Almighty to bring peace and prosperity to Puntland and Somalia,” said the Sultan.
A Puntland traditional elder from Mudug region, Sultan Abdisalam Sultan Mohamud, said: “I believe Sultan Saeed Abdisalam spoke well on behalf of all the traditional elders in Puntland. I will only add that that today we decide our future direction. The Constitution has the full support of our traditional elders.”
Mr. Johan Svensson, Interpeace’s Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa, said Interpeace has played a role to provide technical assistance with the Puntland Constitution.
“This Constitution allows the Puntland people to consolidate peace and stability in a post-conflict situation. The next steps include formation of political parties,” said Mr. Svensson, who also added in Somali words to the audience’s pleasant surprise: “The Constitution is the basis of government.”
UNDP officer in Garowe, Mr. Nic Beresford, sent his congratulations to the people and Government of Puntland State. Mr. Beresford said after the Constitution is adopted, Puntland can take “other major steps in democratizing the State by establishing political parties and organizing democratic elections.”
Other foreign dignitaries present during the Convention’s opening include Ethiopian Consul-General in Puntland, Amb. Asmelash Wolde Mihret, and Germany’s Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, Amb. Michael Hasenau.
Puntland Parliament Speaker
Mr. Abdirashid Mohamed Hersi, speaker of the Puntland Parliament, compared the suffering in southern Somalia to the situation in Puntland.
“We pray that peace returns to our brothers and sisters in southern Somalia. Do you all understand that the Constitution helps to unite us and provide us direction? We must avoid conflict and suffering that has crippled southern Somalia,” said Speaker Hersi.
The Speaker described that Puntland parliamentarians and civil society engaged in public discussions of the Constitution. He noted that the future of Puntland is in a multiparty political system, to the applause of the audience.
Abdirahman Farole, Puntland’s leader, emphasized that today is a historic day for the people of Puntland State of Somalia.
Regarding the purpose of the convention, President Farole stated that it is “important to adopt the State Constitution in order to solidify our government and to realize the dream of the Puntland people.” Continuing, he added: “Let me emphasize again that Puntland State is part of the Federal Republic of Somalia; Puntland is committed to preserving the sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia.”
Speaking to the delegates, the President said: “You are all today representative of the Puntland people. Our people are hopeful and anxious, and so you are obliged to discharge your duties with integrity.”
He cited the U.S. Constitution and the Indian Constitution as examples of constitutions adopted by constituent assemblies, in 1787 and 1959, respectively.
President Farole described his administration’s steps in democratization process, while underscoring that establishing a multiparty political system was one of the President’s election promises in 2008.
The Puntland leader briefed the audience about the government’s accomplishments in security, education, healthcare, environment, drought relief, economic development, and raising Puntland’s international profile, among other achievements. President Farole said his administration considers security as a number one priority and noted that Puntland security forces have been reorganized, trained, and have fought effectively to prevent terrorism, piracy and clan conflicts in Puntland State.
President Farole said: “Even while we are engaged with security, institution-building, and federal affairs, we remain committed to advance the democratization process. We expect an equal sacrifice by the people in order to protect the State.”
Continuing, the President remarked: “Puntland State utilizes three systems of law that function in parallel fashion: Customary Law, Administrative Law, and Islamic Shari’ah Law. It is Shari’ah Law that is the basis of our State Constitution. Any law that contradicts Islamic law is null and void in Puntland State of Somalia.”
President Farole said his vision is for “our people will vote directly to elect their leaders. Our people will be able to hold their leaders to account.”
Describing the political community in Puntland, the President said: “The political community in Puntland is one that adheres to the values of peace, tolerance, and good relations with neighbors, and pursues socio-economic development for the State. Puntland has no ambition to seize the land of other Somali communities, but Puntland is committed to self-defense against external aggressions.”
Finally, the President declared that the Convention is open and prayed for a successful convention, while thanking the various actors who played key roles in finalizing the State Constitution and organizing the Constitutional Convention.
The Puntland Constitutional Convention is scheduled to debate and discuss the State Constitution and the four-day convention will close on Wednesday 18 April 2012. Puntland State, located in northeastern Somalia along Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean coasts, declared itself a state government within Somalia in 1998 and has been relatively stable since its own elected government, policies and security forces.