By Abdiqani Hassan
GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) – A region of war-ravaged Somalia elected a new president on Tuesday, a peaceful transfer of power in a part of the country notorious for piracy and Islamist militias.
Said Abdullahi Deni, who is likely to continue Puntland’s close cooperation 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 that comes 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.
But a combination of maritime patrols, stronger Somali security forces and better security protocols by mariners mean attacks are now rare.
Deni has taken a hardline against the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and a rival splinter faction that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, said Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research.
“He has 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 the incumbent Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, who served a single term and was eliminated in a first round of voting.
The 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 U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, after he raised questions over allegations of police abuses by forces loyal to the central government during another regional election last month.
The government accused Haysom of interfering with internal affairs.
Last Friday, the United Nations said it would appoint a new envoy to the country, whose security forces are struggling to contain the Islamist insurgency. The faction loyal to Islamic State is largely based in Puntland.
(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; additional reporting and writing by Omar Mohammed; editing by Katharine Houreld and Angus MacSwan)