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Behind blast walls, Somali parliament to choose new president

By Abdi Sheikh
People walk past an election banner of incumbent Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu, Somalia May 12, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Two former presidents will face off against the incumbent in Somalia's long-delayed presidential vote on Sunday behind blast walls to protect lawmakers from Islamist attacks and meddling by factions within the security services.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is among 39 candidates seeking the top post, to be chosen by parliamentarians in an airport hangar as the government's tenuous grip on the nation makes a popular vote impossible.

Election banners of Somali presidential candidates are seen along a street in Mogadishu, Somalia. May 12, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

The winner will inherit a daunting list of challenges including the worst drought in 40 years, a violent conflict entering its fourth decade, clan feuds, and a power struggle between the government and federal member states.

"I am the most deserving person who can take Somalia to one man, one vote," President Mohamed, known as Farmaajo for his reputed love of Italian cheese, told lawmakers on Thursday.

Analysts say he may struggle to secure enough votes after allies failed to win senior roles in parliament last week.

At his inauguration in 2017, Mohamed promised to "finish" al Shabaab, an al Qaeda franchise, but the insurgents' attacks and extortion of households and businesses have continued.

Last year, Mohamed's failed bid to extend his term by two years sparked street battles in the capital Mogadishu as security forces split into factions, while his attempts to centralise power has irked regional leaders.

The election has been delayed repeatedly, putting a three-year $400 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programme at risk, as the president and prime minister traded accusations of trying to derail the process.

'SOMALIA CANNOT HAVE A DICTATOR'

Almost two-thirds of parliament, chosen by clan elders last month, are new, so lack a long voting record to help predict the outcome, political analysts said.

Despite the open field, the favourites include former presidents Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Ahmed, a former Islamist, took over as head of a Western-backed transitional government in 2009.

Mohamud, a former academic whom donors accused of not doing enough to fight graft while in office, told parliament on Thursday he would reconcile clans and the federal states and hold a referendum on the constitution.

"Somalia cannot have a dictator leader who illegally clings to their seat," Mohamud said.

Close contenders and likely king-makers in the later rounds of voting are Puntland region president Said Abdulahi Deni and former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.

"I want to liberate our people from the poverty so that they can live with honour," Deni said.

Some residents of Mogadishu said they felt the election would be rigged and unlikely to change much at the top.

"We have seen such pseudo-elections before. I believe another liar will be elected," said Fardawsa Ahmed, a restaurant owner.

But local elder Aden Osman was more optimistic.

"Lawmakers used to elect the one who gave them the biggest hidden hand-shake (bribe). Now they may eat from all hands, but will choose a good man. That is good," he said.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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Dive Deeper:
Somalia's new president to be elected by parliament behind barricades
Hundreds of Somali parliamentarians will meet on Sunday in a heavily-fortified airport hangar to choose a new president in a…
Old faces compete for presidency of turbulent Somalia
Thirty-six aspirants are competing in Somalia's long-delayed presidential election on Sunday, to be decided by parliament in a heavily-guarded airport…
Somali police announce curfew in capital during Sunday's presidential vote
Police in Somalia have announced a 33-hour curfew on the capital Mogadishu that will keep almost all residents at home…
Somalia set to elect new president amid growing insecurity
Somalia is set to hold its long-delayed presidential vote on Sunday, ending the convoluted electoral process that raised tensions in…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
A sense of history and urgency as Somalia moves to elect a new president
Somali lawmakers vote for the country’s new president on May 15, marking the end of a long-delayed and controversial process.…
Somalia set to hold overdue presidential election
Citing security reasons, police in Somalia announce curfew in Mogadishu ahead of the long-delayed election.
Get all your news in one place