Somalia's opposition groups are calling for an urgent meeting with President Mohamed Farmaajo and other stakeholders in an attempt to resolve the electoral impasse.
But the grouping, known as the Council of Presidential Candidates, wants the conference to be held on their terms including that President Farmaajo attends as a candidate and not as a Head of State.
The council on Wednesday said there was a need to resolve outstanding issues from the September 2020 electoral agreement, known as the Dhusamareb III Agreement.
Led by former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, his successor President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and ex-Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and several others, they said such a meeting should be in Mogadishu, not elsewhere.
By that, they were digging in on Farmaajo's own invitation which on Tuesday asked for a meeting with the five federal state presidents but in the city of Garowe in Puntland on February 15.
That proposal had been accepted by Puntland and Jubbaland states, but they disagreed on the venue, asking Farmaajo to relocate the meeting to Mogadishu and involve every other stakeholder including political parties, aspirants, civil society activists and the international community.
"I welcome Puntland's position that the conference should be held in Mogadishu as the term of President Farmaajo has come to an end in order to involve all political stakeholders, including Parliament Speaker, opposition candidates and civil society, said Senator Ilyas Ali Hassan, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Himilo-Qaran, the political party led by former President Ahmed.
The council said that they agree with suggestions by Puntland and Jubbaland states and by the Speaker of the Upper House of the Parliament Abdi Hashi, all who have asked that the consultative meeting be held in Mogadishu with widened participation of the stakeholders, including representatives of Somalia's international partners joining the conference as observers.
Somalia has stalemated on the electoral calendar with leaders unable to agree on who should be in the polling commission and some venues such as Gedo in Jubbaland remaining a bone of contention.
But the latest debate is on whether Farmaajo is still legally in office. The constitution says a presidential term lasts four years from the day a new president is sworn in. Farmaajo was sworn in on February 17, 2017 but was elected on February 8 in 2017. His opponents as well as Puntland and Jubbaland have said his term ended on Monday this week. However, a motion passed by the bicameral federal Parliament on September 26 last year said all incumbents must remain in office until their successors are elected and sworn in.
But even if Farmaajo were to remain President, his opponents seem determined to chip away his influence, essentially wanting him to become lameduck.
"Farmaajo doesn't have a mandate to convene a meeting," said Abdishakur Abdirahman, leader of Wadajir Party and one of the presidential aspirants.
"He has lost credibility and lacks commitment . He's an obstacle to the implementation of the 17 September agreement. CPC will only accept the outcome of a conference they are part of. Farmaajo can take part just like any other candidate," he added, using the initials for the council. Farmaajo did not invite the group for the meeting, but extended it to leaders of Hirshabelle, Galmudug, Puntland, South West and Jubbaland leaders.
It is Farmaajo, the Mayor of Mogadishu and the five federal state presidents who had signed the September 17 Agreement before Parliament endorsed it.
"My four years' term as an MP ended by 26th December 2020, same as Somalia's 10th MPs and I can't dictate the election terms of this seat to my competitors and equally, it is not fair for President Farmaajo to dictate to his opponents as his term ended. We need consensus, not a dictation," said Abdullahi M. Nor, a former State Minister of Finance and MP in Somalia.
The Council of Opposition Presidential Candidates stated that Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, whose term in office as President of Somalia lapsed on 8th of February, is recognised as a president whose functions expired and could only join the conference as a presidential candidate.
"Mr Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo's term ended on February 8 and, unless he opts to quit the race, he can only participate in the meeting as a candidate and not as a president," the council stated.
Farmaajo's office said the "the meeting of the leaders is intended to clear any differences on the implementation of the Indirect Electoral model chosen on 17th of September 2020," adding that the model was also endorsed by Somalia's bicameral Parliament on 26th of September 2020.
In the Indirect Electoral model, 101 delegates from Somali sub-clan members elect each of the 275 legislators to the Golaha Shacabka (the Lower House) while the respective parliaments of the FMS elect the 54 senators.
Apart from President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, the meeting is expected to attract President Said Deni of Puntland and Ahmed Islam Madobe of Jubbaland. Other participants are going to be Ali Hussein Gudlawe of Hirshabelle, Abiaziz Laftagareen of South West, Omar Filish, the Mayor of Mogadishu, and Galmudug's Ahmed Kariye Qoorqoor.
A few hours after Villa Somalia released its statement, PM Roble's office welcomed the move by President Farmaajo to call for an NCF meeting, promising that his government will do whatever is necessary to ensure success.
"As the executive branch of the Somali state, the role of my government is to assist all efforts to clear the differences between the stakeholders," the PM said.
However, a press statement released immediately by the government of Puntland State on Tuesday partly read: "The government of Puntland welcomes the proposed 15th of February consultative meeting."
"The mandate of the FGS ended on 8th of February; therefore, the government of Puntland suggests that the consultative meeting should be held in Mogadishu with participation of FMS, political stakeholders and international partners," the statement suggested.
On Wednesday, Mr James Swan, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Somalia.
According to the briefing, members of the Security Council welcomed the efforts made by the FGS and FMS to find an agreement on the implementation of the 17 September electoral model and noted progress made but were disappointed by lack of full agreement.
The council had a suggestion for Somalis.
"We call for Somalia's leaders to resume their dialogue and work together in the interest of the people of Somalia," the briefing said, urging them to reach consensus on the arrangement for the conduct of inclusive elections to be held as soon as possible.
"In that regard, we have noted the announcement of further talks on the 15th of February."
The problem appears to be complicated by the opposition, including the council of presidential candidates, who say they no longer recognise Farmaajo as president as his four-year term ended on 8th of February.
Farmaajo was elected on 8th February 2017. However, a Somali government spokesman, Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu, told the BBC Somali Service on Wednesday that despite the lapse of time, the president will stay on until a new president is elected or he is re-elected.
"There is a resolution previously passed by Parliament which states that the president and the legislative body will remain in position until new leaders are elected," Moalimu said.
The opposition presidential candidates have warned all sides to stop acknowledging elected politicians whose terms expired.
On Thursday, the Somali government repeated that the meeting will be held in Garowe town as announced on Tuesday.
Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe told the media that his government is committed to facilitating the holding of the elections as soon as possible.
"As per the statement by the UN Security Council this week, the government intends to discuss with other leaders in order to accelerate the holding of the elections," reiterated Dubbe.