MOGADISHU — Somali leaders Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new constitution that contains new individual rights and sets the country on a course for a more powerful and representative government.
The vote came after two thunderous blasts at the gates of the meeting site from a failed suicide attack.
The 825 Somali leaders who debated the constitution for a week approved the document with 621 for, 13 against and 11 abstentions.
The constitution, some eight years in the making, makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia’s legal foundation. No religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country and all laws must be compliant with Shariah — Islamic law.
The constitution protects the right to an abortion to save the life of the mother and bans the circumcision of girls, a common practice in Somalia that opponents call female genital mutilation.
The UN hopes to transition the country to a more representative form of government, but nationwide or even regional elections appear to be years away. Still, the top UN representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said that a new, more representative era for Somalia is about to start after the vote of Somali leaders, or elders.
“Through their good work, the elders have proven their reputation as the custodians of the Somali nationhood and demonstrated their respect for a fair and legitimate process,” he said.
The delegates voted about two hours after two suicide bombers tried to attack the Mogadishu meeting. A police officer said security forces shot the two bombers at the gate to the meeting area. The two bombers were killed and one Somali soldier was wounded, said Abdi Yassin, a police officer.
The explosions are a reminder that even as Somalia continues down a slow path of re-establishing a functioning government after two decades of near anarchy in this East African nation, Al-Shabab militants who were pushed out of the capital last year can still infiltrate Mogadishu and wreak havoc.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the vote by the National Constituent Assembly means that Somalia has ended its period of transitional government.
The UN mandate for Somalia’s current government — the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG — expires on Aug. 20. — Agencies