NAIROBI, Oct 15 (Reuters) Somalia's president and prime minister are staring each other down in a political standoff that may end their lengthy feud but also set the Horn of Africa government adrift -- again.
President Abdullahi Yusuf and his allies, including 22 ministers, are again trying to have Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi thrown out via a no-confidence vote, tentatively set to happen tomorrow or Wednesday, Somali officials said.
But Gedi, who survived one attempted no-confidence vote last year, is busy lobbying legislators and has tried to enlist the help of his Hawiye clan -- who have long complained he is not their choice but who may back him against Yusuf's Darod clan.
It is anyone's guess how the vote will go, with reports of money and favours changing hands rapidly, according to several Somali legislators and observers in Baidoa, the south-central trading post where parliament sits in a converted warehouse.
''It shows the emergence of an underlying split in the government that threatens its very existence, and that pretty much undermines the very basis of Western policy in Somalia,'' said Michael Weinstein, a professor of political science at Purdue University in Indiana.
Western governments, along with regional powers, have pushed the transitional government forward as the best hope of creating a national authority in Somalia. Thirteen previous attempts have failed since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's ousting in 1991.
Gedi and Yusuf, who both ascended to power via Ethiopian manoeuvring, have long feuded. A truce since the last no-confidence vote in 2006 shattered earlier this year when they backed rival concerns looking for oil exploration rights.
''Yusuf has said Gedi must go, legally or illegally. It's not a secret,'' said a Somali expert with close ties to the Gedi and Yusuf camps.
Yusuf's side argues Gedi's term has expired under the transitional federal charter. Gedi insists he has the law and time behind him.
But Yusuf's allies arrested the chief justice of the supreme court on corruption charges late last month, leaving no legal arbiter to interpret the constitutional question.
''MANIPULATING US'' Whether Gedi stays or goes, the vote likely means a delay in moving the interim government closer to its goal of building up institutions amid a persistent insurgency in Mogadishu, and growing conflict with breakaway Somaliland in the north.
''What we want is people to start working in the right direction.
The way things are, we consider it disastrous,'' said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
''They have to realise the international community is becoming more and more fed up, because we have the impression that they are manipulating us.'' Somalia experts and diplomats who follow it were split on what would happen in the parliament.
''It's either he resigns or he comes up for an embarrassing loss at the no-confidence vote. It is in his best interest to go quietly,'' said one expert that tracks Somalia from Nairobi.
A European diplomat said: ''Don't forget that this has been tried before, they haven't succeeded before. It was never a done deal. This time around things look a bit different.'' REUTERS RSA RN2341