MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somali lawmakers voted for the country’s president on Wednesday, gathering in the safety of Mogadishu’s heavily fortified airport after months of delays and following threats from Islamist insurgents bent on derailing the elections.
The voting process, which lasted months, began with 14,000 elders and regional figures choosing 275 members of parliament and 54 senators, who then began casting ballots to choose between President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud or one of his 20 rivals.
Newly reappointed parliament Speaker Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari announced results of the first round of voting in a hall full of lawmakers and diplomats, protected by the airport’s blast walls and guarded by an African Union peacekeeping force.
He said three candidates would battle it out in the second round: President Mohamud, former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. A fourth candidate dropped out.
Unless one contender secures a sweeping victory in the second round, a final round on Wednesday will see the top two face off to lead a nation that is trying rebuild after more than two decades of war and chaos.
Pervasive corruption is one of the biggest complaints among ordinary Somalis and Western donors. Rival candidates accuse each other of buying the loyalty of lawmakers. Anti-corruption group Marqaati says tens of thousands of dollars have been handed to individuals to secure support in the vote.
Western donors, who have often criticized President Mohamud’s government for corruption, say the vote is far from perfect but say it marks a modest step forward from 2012 when just 135 elders picked the lawmakers, who chose the president.
The threat from Islamist al Shabaab rebels, who regularly launch attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, meant the government and its Western backers scrapped a plan to give each adult a vote due to the challenge of securing polling stations.
Several blasts, probably from mortar bombs, echoed across the seaside capital Mogadishu late on Tuesday. But there were no reports of casualties in the city, which had been subject to heavy security ahead of the vote.
Al Shabaab, which ruled Somalia for several years, has been slowly driven out of its strongholds in a campaign by AMISOM and Somali troops. But its fighters launch regular gun and bomb attacks in their bid to topple the government and impose their strict interpretation of Islam.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Dominic Evans)