Members of Somalia's transitional parliament on Sunday elected Abdullahi Yusuf, a former army colonel, as interim president of the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa, the parliament speaker said.
The vote was the final step in a plan to reestablish central governance in Somalia, which for 13 years has been divided into fiefdoms controlled by warlords. The vote was held in Kenya because of a lack of security in Somalia.
Yusuf won with 189 votes in the third round of voting, the speaker, Shariif Hassan Sheikh Aden, told the 275-member transitional parliament and regional foreign ministers who observed the vote. Former finance minister Abdullahi Addow garnered 79 votes, Aden said. The election had gone into a third round after no outright winner emerged in the first and second ballots, which were contested by more than two dozen candidates.
"Some Somalis work during the day and others during the night, but I promise to you that I will work both day and night to make Somalia secure," Yusuf said in an impromptu acceptance speech.
"Somalia is a failed state and we have nothing," he said. "We need you [the international community] to stand by us and help us disarm our militias . . . which are destabilizing the Somali people."
A career soldier who was Somalia's military attache to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Yusuf, 69, was jailed for six years for refusing to take part in the 1969 coup that put Mohammed Siad Barre in power. He defected to Kenya after taking part in a failed 1978 coup attempt against Siad Barre.
Ethiopia's military government detained him from 1985 until May 1991 after he opposed its attempts to seize disputed territory along the Somalia-Ethiopia border. But he mended fences with a subsequent Ethiopian government during the 1990s and has since enjoyed its backing in his dealings with other Somali warlords.
Yusuf has led Somalia's autonomous enclave of Puntland since it declared independence from Somalia in 1998. It says it will rejoin Somalia when stability is restored.
Addow conceded defeat and pledged his cooperation with Yusuf. "I wish him success in his new job," Addow said. "I promise before the Somalis and the international community that I will work with the new president of Somalia."
Yusuf will nominate Somalia's prime minister, who then will name a cabinet. The members of parliament have an unwritten agreement to fill key government and legislative posts along clan lines.
Yusuf is a member of one of Somalia's four biggest clans, the Darod. He is expected to choose a prime minister from another big clan, the Hawiye, which controls Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
In August, long-running peace talks in Kenya resulted in the formation of a transitional parliament. Aden was elected speaker Sept. 15.
Despite the broad participation in the peace process, many diplomats and activists point out that there has been little reconciliation among enemies, who now sit together in parliament and run against each other for government posts.
Yusuf has said he plans to disarm Somalia's militias and rehabilitate gunmen into civil life, rebuild its infrastructure, and improve health, education and welfare systems. But some analysts say they fear that once in power he will clash with militant Islamic groups hostile to Ethiopian influence.