New head of state was to be chosen by new legislators whose selection was delayed after opponents accused the president of packing regional and national elections boards with his supporters.
Somalia’s president has defiantly signed into law an extension of his mandate and that of his government as the United States and others threatened sanctions and warned of further instability in one of the world’s most fragile countries.
"President Mohamed Abdullahi (Farmajo) has tonight signed the direction of one person, one vote law which was unanimously passed by parliament on April 14," the statement issued by the Minister of Information Osman A Dubbe late on Tuesday night said.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo's four-year term expired in February without a successor.
The standoff prolongs a months-long election crisis after the February national vote was delayed.
Critics say President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s time in office is over. The international community had objected to a mandate extension and warned that the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group could take advantage of the country’s heated political divisions.
The president late Tuesday signed the controversial law after the lower house of parliament this week voted to effectively extend his mandate for two years while calling for direct elections during that time. Leaders of the Senate, however, called the vote illegal and Somalia’s opposition protested.
"The United States is deeply disappointed by the Federal Government o f Somalia's decision to approve a legislative bill that extends the mandates of the president and parliament by two years," said a statement by US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
"It will compel the United States to reevaluate our bilateral relations with the Federal Government of Somalia, to include diplomatic engagement and assistance, and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions."
A Tuesday statement by Britain's Minister for Africa James Duddridge also warned of unspecified consequences.
"In the absence of consensus leading to inclusive and credible elections being held without further delay, the international community’s relationship with Somalia’s leadership will change," said his statement.
The European Union had warned that signing this week’s decision into law would divide Somalia and “constitute a grave threat to the peace and stability of Somalia and its neighbors,” and it threatened to consider “concrete measures” in response.
READ MORE: What’s happening in Somalia?
The extension of the Federal Government’s term deepens Somalia's political divide. Leaders should return to talks urgently and resolve the electoral crisis. @AmbMursal @AbdiweliMudey @awed_mahad @M_Farmaajo https://t.co/o9Uh0IUNV6— Bureau of African Affairs (@AsstSecStateAF) April 14, 2021
In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, frustration deepened.
“What happened can be explained as a coup d’etat executed by a group of people who were hungry for power for so long,” said civil society leader Abdullahi Mohamed Shirwa. “This is just like the craziest political gamble” in a country already wrestling with humanitarian crises driven by instability and the changing climate.
Somalia’s government has been unable for months to reach agreement on how to carry out the election, with the regional states of Puntland and Jubbaland objecting on certain issues and the international community warning against holding a partial election. The crisis led to deadly violence against demonstrators who opposed an election delay.
Contentious issues in months of talks on the election process included the formation of the electoral management commission, the selection of commission members for the breakaway region of Somaliland.
Somalia hasn’t had a one-person-one-vote direct election in decades.
The country began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and attacks by al-Shabab, along with famine, left this Horn of Africa country of about 12 million people largely shattered.
Al-Shabab controls large parts of southern and central Somalia and often targets the capital with suicide bombings. The extremist group has been a frequent target of US military airstrikes.