Peaceful power transfer in Puntland

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A region of war-ravaged Somalia elected a new president this week, a peaceful transfer of power in a part of the country notorious for piracy and Islamist militias.

Said Abdullahi Deni, likely to continue Puntland’s co-operation with the United States, defeated his closest rival, Asad Osman Abdullahi. He was sworn in for a new five-year term.

Puntland, on the tip of the Horn of Africa, considers itself a semi-autonomous region under the federal government, although the relationship between the two parties has at times been tense.

Six years ago, it was a hotbed of piracy and hundreds of attacks cost the shipping industry billions of dollars.

A combination of maritime patrols, stronger Somali security forces and better security protocols by mariners means attacks are now rare.

Deni has taken a hard line against Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and a rival splinter faction that pledged allegiance to Islamic State, said Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research.

“He campaigned as a reformist, promising to strengthen government institutions, fight corruption and stabilise the economy,” Bryden said.

A former Somali federal minister for planning Demi won 35 votes out of the 66 lawmakers that voted the speaker of Puntland’s parliament, Abdihakim Mohamed Ahmed, said.

He replaces incumbent Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, who served a single term and was eliminated in a first round of voting.

Regional elections in Puntland followed the expulsion of the senior United Nations official in Somalia earlier this month.

The Mogadishu-based federal government expelled Nicholas Haysom, who served as Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, after he raised questions over allegations of police abuses by forces loyal to the central government during another regional election.

Government accused Haysom of interfering with internal affairs.

Last Friday, the United Nations said it would appoint a new envoy to the country, where security forces struggle to contain the Islamist insurgency. The faction loyal to Islamic State is largely based in Puntland.